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Philomena Troy of Kilmacthomas Waterford with her identical twins Eve and Ellie pictured as she graduated from the LINC Programme in 2019.

 

The Leadership for INClusion in the Early Years (LINC) Consortium has been awarded a tender by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) to continue its delivery of a specialist level 6 higher education programme for practising early childhood educators working in early learning and care (ELC) settings across Ireland. The contract is worth 3.6 million over the next three years, with the option of a one-year extension.

The LINC Programme is a one-year, Level 6 Special Purpose award delivered by a consortium led by Mary Immaculate College (MIC), which includes Early Childhood Ireland and Maynooth University-Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education. The programme is designed to support early childhood educators in leading and creating inclusive settings, where all children are enabled to flourish and achieve their potential. The LINC Programme has been delivered through a blended format in the past number of years, and has received multiple awards for the innovation, exceptionality and accessibility of the students’ experience. In view of the current COVID-19 pandemic, and the LINC Consortium’s concern to prioritise the health and safety of students, their families and communities, the LINC programme will be delivered exclusively online until it is safe to revert to face-to-face sessions. Graduates of the programme qualify to become INclusion Coordinators (INCOs) in their early childhood settings.

In the last four years, over 3,500 early childhood educators have completed the programme and a further 630 places annually will be made available over the next three to ensure that all settings can benefit from the support that an INCO can provide. In addition to the Level 6 programme, the LINC Consortium is developing a continuing professional development (CPD) programme for INCOs to allow them to continue on their education journey and deepen their knowledge and understanding of leading inclusion in their settings.

Minister O’Gorman, TD,  Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, welcomed the continuation of the LINC Programme for another 3 years, stating that ‘The LINC Programme has been a key contributor to the success of the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) in supporting the inclusion of children with disabilities in the ECCE programme. Its continuation is a clear sign of my Department’s commitment to fostering an inclusive culture to help all children to reap the benefits of quality early learning and care. In addition to providing for the training of a further 1,890 Inclusion Coordinators over the next 3 years, I am particularly pleased that my Department is for the first time going to support ongoing CPD opportunities for qualified Inclusion Coordinators’.

In welcoming the award, Prof. Emer Ring, Dean of Early Childhood and Teacher Education at MIC, commented that she has been exceptionally proud to have been involved in the LINC programme from its commencement in 2016 and thanked all of her colleagues at MIC, the LINC Consortium partners , LINC team and the DCYA, without whom the programme would not be the outstanding success that it is.  Referencing the recent evaluation findings of the programme, Prof Ring remarked that “the impact of the programme on supporting early childhood educators to promote inclusive culture, practice and pedagogy has been simply phenomenal”. Prof Ring concluded that she is looking forward to continuing to work with colleagues “to support the creation of high-quality early childhood experiences where diversity becomes the norm”, and hopes that she has an opportunity to meet with all of the prospective LINC students in the near future.

Teresa Heeney, CEO, Early Childhood Ireland remarked that “ This is wonderful news and a worthy testament to the vision, leadership, and dedication of all involved in this ground-breaking programme. We at Early Childhood Ireland are very proud to be part of this initiative. It is a privilege to see first-hand the inspirational work of the programme and its graduates in spearheading inclusion and accessibility for young children in Ireland. On behalf of all my colleagues, I would like to wish all at LINC the very best over the next three years.  It is a privilege to work alongside the team from LINC, whose vision for children inspires us every day”.

Prof. Marie Mc Loughlin, Head of the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education, Maynooth University  added that The LINC programme offers an invaluable opportunity for early childhood educators  to engage in high quality professional development which has the potential to transform their practice in the area of inclusive and special education and develop capacity for leadership within early childhood settings for the future”.

Acting LINC Director, Marie Doherty, noted that “this extension of the programme further acknowledges the huge contribution the Consortium has made to enhancing the use of innovative practice within early childhood education in Ireland. It also demonstrates the benefits of drawing together combined knowledge and expertise of a number of organisations, each deeply committed to contributing to the betterment of care and education for children in the early years”.

The LINC programme has twice been the recipient of the Best Online Learning Experience Award at the Education Awards – an award that recognises, encourages and celebrates excellence in third level education. The LINC programme will open for applications on the 12th of October 2020, more information can be found on www.lincprogramme.ie.