The Learner Fund is an initiative of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA). Since this Initiative was established in 2013, more than 3,000 early years practitioners have been supported to raise their qualification level in Early Childhood Care and Education.
The Learner Fund 3 was launched in March 2014 and made €3 million available over 2014-15, to be spent as subsidies towards the cost of training for staff in early years services that need to up skill to meet new qualification requirements.
The Learner Fund provided funds specifically to assist existing staff working directly with children in registered early years services to meet the new qualification requirements coming into effect in September 2015. The fund was used to subsidise the cost for eligible learners to undertake accredited Level 5 and Level 6 courses provided by certain approved training providers.
The Learner Fund 4 focused specifically on supporting the expansion of free pre-school provision under the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme announced in Budget 2016. This increased the number of children benefiting from free pre-school from about 67,000 to around 127,000 in a given programme year. The expansion of free pre-school applied from September 2016, when the minimum qualification requirement for ECCE Room Leaders was a Level 6 Major Award on the National Qualifications Framework.
To ensure there were sufficient numbers of qualified ECCE Room Leaders to meet the requirements of expansion of the ECCE Programme, the Department provided funding to assist existing early years practitioners who hold a full Level 5 Major Award, or equivalent, working in an ECCE service that intends to increase the number of ECCE places offered in the (September 2016 – August 2017) funding year to obtain an appropriate major award at Level 6 on the NFQ, to meet the requirements to work as an ECCE Room Leader.