- Families want to avail of free preschool education provision for their child, but parents who have contacted us have expressed dismay at the lack of flexibility in the new system.
- There are sound reasons for supporting a flexible start and finish to the ECCE scheme for a child who has Down syndrome, for example:
- Some children who have Down syndrome have a difficult early childhood (due to prematurity, cardiac surgery, leukaemia, feeding issues, multiple infections, etc). They will take longer to reach developmental stages, and may benefit from additional preschool time.
- All children with Down syndrome will have more medical and therapy appointments than typically developing children, which can considerably impact on attendance.
- Because of these factors, families may be unable to avail of the five days a week preschool provision until the child is a little older. Rather than waiting a full year, some would like to begin at the usual age, but with a shorter week, or to start part way through the year.
- Many parents would like the flexibility to be able to extend the two year provision into three years if needed.
- We consider this a very reasonable start to education, as children with disabilities can benefit greatly from additional time to mature and develop, particularly in the area social and communication skills, ensuring that they are more prepared for learning at primary school.
- With the changes to the system, if children start later in the year or don’t use the full five days initially, those free preschool learning opportunities will be lost (or have to be made up with preschool sessions funded by families at a later stage)
- Decisions to delay starting or finishing preschool may be made by the parent, but can also be driven by external factors, such as child health, availability of preschool or primary school places, or individual school policies. The system needs to be flexible enough to respond to individual circumstances.
- The key issue is that parents would like to be trusted. They want to be involved, and they want the decision about when their child transitions from preschool to primary to be centred on the child, rather than dictated by the system.