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The reintroduction of full Level 5 COVID-19 restrictions was previously announced by Government on 30 December. Under these restrictions and in line with the Plan for Living with COVID-19, it was announced that early learning and childcare services and schools will continue to operate in Level 5 and are deemed essential, with early learning and childcare services reopening after the Christmas break as usual and schools reopening at a slightly later date of 11 January.
On 31 December, Minister O’Gorman met with the Early Learning and Childcare COVID-19 Advisory Group to discuss this matter. Representatives from the Advisory Group shared their concerns about the full resumption of early learning and childcare from early January. While accepting the need to maintain early learning and childcare for priority groups, the Advisory Group asked that the pre-school programme (ECCE) would be aligned with the reopening of schools on 11 January.
The Minister has agreed with his Cabinet colleagues that the pre-school programme can resume at a slightly later date of 11 January 2021. The ECCE pre-school programme is delivered by over 4, 000 services nationwide and provides two years of State funded pre-school for all children in the eligible age cohort. Over 100, 000 children are currently enrolled on this programme.
By postponing the return of these children to the pre-school programme, social mixing will be reduced, which will help to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the post-Christmas period. The pre-school programme will now resume on 11 January, in line with the reopening of schools. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth will provide funding to providers for the pre-school programme for the week of 4 to 8 January.
Under the full Level 5 COVID-19 restrictions, early learning and childcare services, including childminders that provide services other than, or in addition to, the pre-school programme, can continue to operate. These services provide an essential service which supports parents to go to work.
The Minister is asking these services, which are private businesses, to reopen as planned from 4 January to provide childcare, particularly to priority groups. The Department will provide guidance to services on how to prioritise demand for places in their services, if they are short staffed and unable to reopen with a full staff complement for the week of 4 to 8 January.
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