Use of primary schools for childcare would be ‘band aid approach’

The use of primary school buildings as a low-cost solution for childcare would amount to a “band aid approach” to a serious capacity problem, according to industry professionals.

Early Childhood Ireland, which represents service providers in the sector, was commenting on suggestions that school buildings be used as a way of providing after-school childcare at reduced cost.

Dun Laoghaire Fine Gael TD Mary Mitchell O’Connor said she was lobbying relevant Ministers to support such a scheme for “hard pressed parents”.

She pointed out that primary schools had already been paid for by the taxpayer and they represented “a facility that can be used” from early afternoon as they were normally empty from then.

‘Low-cost’ model

She proposed that the buildings be used as part of a “low cost” model of after-school care, staffed by qualified childcare workers.

Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan has said she is engaging with Cabinet colleagues on “a number of important early years’ initiatives”, including the potential to use school premises for some childcare activities.

However, department sources dismissed any suggestion that primary school teachers would be involved in running after-school services or that the issue would form part of forthcoming pay talks.

Instead the department is looking at ways of facilitating childcare providers operating on a primary school campus where there is local demand.

A number of such multi-purpose campuses are already either under development or in existence, including at Galvone National School in Limerick and St Ultans in Cherry Orchard, Dublin.

Oatlands College in Stillorgan, Dublin has also set up specially-designed childcare facilities on its premises, while a number of other schools in Dublin operate informal afterschool services.

In a statement, the department said Ms O’Sullivan was “supportive of coherent measures that facilitate greater community use of schools while respecting the core role of schools”.

‘Practical issues’

However, “there are also a number of practical issues, such as lease terms, insurance, etc., that need to be properly examined for schools considering additional activities on their premises…

“It should also be noted that decisions on additional usage ultimately rest with the patron body of each school and that the Minister, on behalf of the Department, is the patron/owner of only approx. 6 per cent of schools.”

Early Childhood Ireland ceo Teresa Heeney said any initiatives needed to be “child centred” rather than aimed at minimising investment.

“We don’t need a band aid attempt to shift children from one classroom into another, wrapped up as a quick fire way to use what we have, rather than actually looking at what we need, and centering that thinking in the child’s needs.

“What we urgently need is a partnership approach to developing Ireland’s early years strategy but this must be backed up by a commitment to real investment.

“This Government can’t solve our childcare needs on the existing investment of 0.2% of GDP, no matter how they jig school buildings around. Families may welcome this development but without increased investment, this plan is pie in the sky.”

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Use of primary schools for childcare would be ‘band aid approach’
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