The Centre for Social and Educational Research (CSER) at Dublin Institute of Technology has been at the forefront of academic research on early childhood education (ECE) in Ireland for over 15 years.
Early childhood education has attracted a great deal of policy attention and investment over the last decade. The level of investment and the recent decision to support a Free Preschool Initiative suggests a long-term commitment to this sector. However, there is concern that the investment has been focused on increasing places within the sector without sufficient consideration of the quality and sustainability of those places (Adshead & Neylon, 2008; Bennett, 2006; Hayes, 1995; 2006; Hayes & Bradley, 2009; OECD, 2004). International research has found that quality early education benefits all children but is differentially beneficial for disadvantaged children and their families. This is most likely to occur where policy is carefully drawn and implemented to support practice and where there is consistency and continuity in the early educational experiences of the young children themselves. In the absence of Irish research the CSER took a strategic initiative to lead research to inform the future direction of ECE in Ireland.
Since 2006, the CSER has hosted three major projects covering policy analysis, progamme impact and transition strategies from preschool into primary school. The main ongoing one is:
Evaluation of the Early Childhood Care and Education Programme of Tallaght West Child Development Initiative
In association with Tallaght West Childhood Development Initiative Ltd.
Research funded by: Atlantic Philanthropies and the Office of the Minister for Children
This research is funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and the Office of the Minister for Children and will be ongoing for 3 and a half years.The research will be managed through a partnership between the Centre for Social and Educational Research [CSER], Dublin Institute of Technology and the Institute of Education [IOE], University of London. Professor Nóirín Hayes and Professor Iram Siraj-Blatchford (IOE) act as Principal Investigators for the project and Siobhan Keegan is the full-time lead researcher. Part-time field-workers will carry out field work in phases over the three and a half years and regular reports will arise from the ongoing evaluation work.
A cluster randomisation trial is being used to evaluate the programme in which the unit of inference is the individual (child). Service providers who agreed to participate in the RCT were matched in pairs based on data collated by CDI (e.g. staff qualifications; child: staff ratio; service capacity; parental support; staff development; etc). This information was used to randomly assign service providers into control (Crocus) and intervention (Iris) groups. Iris groups receive a dedicated and manualised Early Childhood Care and Education Programme that is being rolled out by Tallaght West CDI.
The purpose of the research is to evaluate the implementation of CDI ECCE programme by assessing its impact on:
- Children’s developmental progress
- Inter-disciplinary assessments and effective referral mechanisms
- Support and training of pre-school staff
In addition, the research focuses on the appropriateness and effectiveness of the CDI ECCE programme, particularly in terms of:
- day to day experiences of young children in the home, preschool and early primary school
- preschool quality and curriculum
- planning and implementation
- monitoring and assessment strategies
- qualifications and training of staff
- programme resources
- partnership with parents
- quality assurance, inspection
- transitional issues
The evaluation team will also evaluate the overall roll-out of the programme at the CDI level through the use of documentary analysis, observation and interview and focus groups.