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Minister Zappone announces 900 free places on the Leadership for Inclusion in the Early Years (LINC) Higher Education Programme


Monday 27th March, 2017

Applications will open this week for the second intake onto the Leadership for Inclusion (LINC) higher education programme for early years practitioners which will commence this September.  LINC, which was established in 2016 , is a Level 6 Special Purpose Award designed to support inclusion of children with a disability in free pre-school provided under the Government’s Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme.

The LINC Programme is being delivered by a consortium, led by Mary Immaculate College, Limerick together with Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education, Maynooth University and Early Childhood Ireland.

Minister Zappone welcomed the announcement of the second intake onto the LINC Programme, noting that ‘the Programme is part of the Government’s commitment to the provision of high quality education and training to upskill the early years workforce. It is a key initiative under the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) designed to ensure that children with disabilities can access and participate in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme to the fullest extent possible’.

The LINC Programme contains online and classroom based sessions in order to ensure a flexible and quality learning experience, enabling early years’ practitioners in full-time employment to attend this important continuing professional development (CPD) programme. According to Mr Fintan Breen, LINC National Programme Coordinator ‘early years practitioners have engaged enthusiastically with this Programme and feedback suggests that LINC is having a positive and significant impact on practice within early years’ settings and on the inclusion of children with a disability’.

Last September, the first intake of 900 early years practitioners was funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs to undertake the LINC Programme. From September 2017, graduates from this first intake will perform a new leadership role of Inclusion Coordinator within their pre-school setting. This will attract an increase of €2 per child per week in the rate of ECCE capitation payable to that setting.

The application deadline for the LINC Programme is 27th April 2017 and further information on how to apply can be found on



The Access Inclusion Model (AIM)

The goal of AIM is to empower pre-school providers to deliver an inclusive pre-school experience, ensuring that every eligible child can fully participate in the Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Programme and reap the benefits of quality early years care and education. AIM is a child-centred model, involving seven levels of progressive support, moving from the universal to the targeted, based on the needs of the child and the pre-school provider. More than 1,800 children have benefitted from one or more of the 2,830 targeted supports provided to date.

Levels 1-3 provide universal support to create a culture of inclusion within pre-school settings, by providing training and information for pre-school providers and parents.

•    Level 1 works to foster an inclusive culture. In 2016, the Minister published a new Inclusion Charter for the pre-school sector, alongside updated and strengthened Diversity, Equality and Inclusion Guidelines for Early Childhood Care and Education. Training on these Guidelines is now being rolled out nationally.

•    Under Level 2, information is made available to parents and pre-school providers about AIM. The website contains comprehensive information on the model and on how to apply for supports.  The website also contains the new Inclusion Charter and Guidelines, as well as a range of other resources. 

•    Level 3 works to support a Qualified and Confident Workforce. In September, a first intake of 900 staff from pre-school settings was funded by DCYA to undertake Leadership for Inclusion (LINC), a Level 6 Special Purpose Award. From September 2017, programme graduates will perform a new leadership role of Inclusion Co-ordinator within their pre-school setting. This will attract an increase of €2 per child per week in the rate of ECCE capitation payable to that setting.

All targeted elements (Levels 4-7) of the AIM are operational.

•    Level 4 provides Expert Early Years Educational Advice and Support. This service is available to pre-school providers and is based within the Better Start Early Years Inclusion Specialist Service (EYISS). To date, the team of 50 specialists (in early years care and education for children with disabilities) has completed 4,337 visits providing advice and guidance. To further support this work, 18 additional posts have been advertised.

•    Under Level 5 (Equipment and Minor Alterations), 136 applications for equipment have been approved, as well as 19 applications for minor alterations grants.

•    Level 6 provides Therapeutic Intervention for children who need it: Referrals are made to the HSE by the Early Years Inclusion Specialist Service (EYISS).

•    Level 7 provides Additional Assistance in the Pre-school Room and 885 applications have been approved to date. In line with emerging best practice to support the integration and independence of children with a disability, AIM does not fund Special Needs Assistants (SNAs). Rather, it provides financial support to the pre-school provider, which can be used either to reduce the adult to child ratio in the pre-school room or to buy in additional assistance to the pre-school room. Accordingly, Level 7 assistance is a shared resource for the pre-school setting and is paid at two rates: a Higher Capitation Level is paid at a rate of €39 per day and covers 3 hours of staff time; a Lower Capitation Level is paid at a rate of €26 per day and covers 2 hours of staff time enabling the child/ children to attend for 3 hours. It is estimated that pre-school providers may need Level 7 assistance for approx. 1 to 1.5% of all children or those children with very advanced, complex needs.