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This thesis explores the introduction of the Free Preschool Year (FPY) in Ireland from the early childhood 'educators' and 'policymakers' perspectives. Under the new FPY initiative introduced in 2010, all children between the ages of 3.2 - 4.7 are offered free preschool hours for a period of one year prior to their entrance into primary school. This research identified the need to study the introduction of FPY as research into this topic to date has been limited. The purpose of this research was to understand the rationale behind this new initiative as well as exploring the issues of 'qualification requirements', 'professionalism' and 'quality' within the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector in Ireland. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 11 respondents (3 key policymakers and 8 educators) regarding core issues under study. Bearing in mind that FPY was introduced during the period of economic crisis in Ireland I have adopted the theory of 'constructivist institutionalism' as a guide to bring some insight into the issue of policymaking processes during economic crisis (Hay, 2006). Findings suggest that the policy ideas behind the introduction of FPY were driven by economic crisis, which suggests that other presented key objectives: saving childcare infrastructure, keeping people in employment as well as preventing the collapse of ECEC could only have been argued for during the economic crisis. One of the key findings in this research is that with the introduction of FPY and its concomitant qualification requirement/standardisation, the ECEC sector is becoming institutionalised and professionalised as a result of these new policy changes. Findings also suggest that 'early education' may have superseded 'childcare' in ECEC policy thinking. However, this attention towards preschooling may lead to decreased attention to ECEC service to children under 3.2 years. Some of the key challenges highlighted in this research were related to issues of quality, training, professional recognition and age category. Nonetheless, the findings in this research suggested that FPY policy has been highly welcomed by all the stakeholders as an important step towards ensuring equality of access, quality provision, qualification standardisation as well as professionalisation of the ECEC sector and its workforce in Ireland.
Ozonyia, Martina: The Free Preschool Year in Ireland: The Perspectives of Early Childhood Educators and Policymakers. Dublin, DIT, August 2012.