Interim evaluation highlights how “highly valued” inclusion programme is set to reach 83% of pre-schools by 2020.

Pictured (l-r) were Teresa Heeney CEO Early Childhood Ireland, Professor Marie McLoughlin Froebel Department Maynooth University, Fintan Breen National Programme Coordinator LINC Programme, Minister Katherine Zappone TD and Eugene Wall President Mary Immaculate College Limerick.


The Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, Katherine Zappone T.D., officially launched the interim evaluation of the Leadership for Inclusion in the Early Years (LINC) Adult Education Programme at the Headquarters of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs yesterday. The evaluation’s findings demonstrates how LINC has become an agent for change in Irish pre-schools, promoting the inclusion of all children.

The LINC Programme is a one-year Level 6 Special Purpose award funded by the Department of Children and Youth Affairs (DCYA) and 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 course is designed to facilitate practising early childhood teachers to promote the inclusion of children with additional needs. On graduation, LINC Graduates can be appointed by their pre-school to become the INclusion COordinator (INCO) and to lead inclusion of all children within that pre-school.

The interim evaluation highlights the success of LINC over its first two years of operation and finds in particular that it has been successful in terms of the number of pre-schools that have engaged with the programme. It is estimated that, by its conclusion, approximately 3,500 early childhood teachers will have graduated from LINC, ensuring a more inclusive environment for children across 83% of pre-schools offering the free preschool (ECCE) programme in Ireland.

Welcoming the findings of the interim evaluation, the minister said:

“The award-winning LINC programme is a key initiative under the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) which is all about ensuring access to pre-school for every child. The LINC programme informs and challenges learners’ attitudes and values, leading to increased professionalism and knowledge that improves the inclusive culture and practice in Early Learning and Care settings. It is clear from the results of this interim evaluation that the programme is very highly valued by both participants and employers and is likely to have a significant impact on the inclusion of children with a disability.”

Commenting on the Launch, Fintan Breen, National Programme Coordinator for the LINC Programme, said:

We are delighted with the recognition that LINC has received today by having the Minister launch our interim evaluation. We are really proud of the work put in by the full team and the success of the programme, demonstrated by the findings in this evaluation, is testimony to their commitment to inclusion. It also recognises the journey that our learners are on and the work they are doing to ensure that all children are included in Early Learning and Care settings across the country. We will be starting the final year of the programme this September and look forward to welcoming a new group of students who will become leaders in inclusion.”

LINC Steering Group member Teresa Heeney CEO of Early Childhood Ireland added:

We at Early Childhood Ireland have been very fortunate to work alongside Mary Immaculate College and Maynooth University-Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education to deliver the Leadership in INClusion programme. The interim evaluation published today captures the extraordinary success of this initiative in its first two years. It is clear that LINC has had a tremendous impact on inclusion and quality within the sector and we look forward to reaching the milestone of 83% of settings by 2020. Our warmest congratulations to all who have participated in the programme, and to our fellow consortium members on this fantastic achievement.”

A sentiment echoed by Professor Marie McLaughlin Steering Group member and Head of the Froebel Department of Primary and Early Childhood Education, Maynooth University who commented:

“This interim evaluation of the LINC programme  provides a 360 degree perspective on an initiative in the early year’s sector which has the potential to transform inclusive practices and cultures in settings nationwide. In particular, the report  illustrates the power that such an initiative can have on practitioners and leaders in the field.  It represents the voices and experiences of key stakeholders and depicts emerging influences on practice and policy. The valuable learning arising from this evaluation has the potential to inform and shape future models of professional learning in the early year’s sector and beyond and consequently is worthy of serious consideration by policy makers. “

The LINC Programme is part of the Access and Inclusion Model (AIM) of supports designed to ensure that children with additional needs can access the​ Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programme. The goal of AIM is to empower early childhood teachers to deliver an inclusive pre-school experience, ensuring that every eligible child can fully participate in the ECCE programme and reap the benefits of quality early years care and education.

Yesterday’s event saw representatives from local and national government, education and previous participants of the programme come together to discuss inclusion in Irish pre-schools and the impact of the role of the INclusion COordinator (INCO) . Recent recipient of the inaugural LINC Award for Leadership In Inclusion and INclusion COordinator of Playmates Pre-school in Navan, Karen Lynch, discussed the changes she has implemented in her pre-school since completing the programme. She was joined by parent Elaine Duffy whose son attends Karen’s pre-school. Also participating in a discussion around the impact of LINC and the AIM Model were Toby Wolfe, Principal Officer, DCYA;  Maresa Duignan, Asst. Chief Inspector, Department of Education and Skills; Margaret Rogers, National Manager, Better Start Ireland and Teresa Heeney, CEO Early Childhood Ireland.

The LINC Programme will commence its final year in September 2019 with an intake of 1,000 students. More information can be found on www.lincprogramme.ie.

The LINC Interim Evaluation can be accessed here: http://bit.ly/LINC_Interim_Evaluation


Parent Elaine Duffy with INclusion COordinator Karen Lynch from Playmates pre-school in Navan pictured at the launch of the LINC Programme Interim Evaluation at the Department of Children and Youth Affairs

Pictured (L-R) at the Launch of the LINC Programme Interim Evaluation were: Toby Wolf, Principal Officer Department of Children and Youth Affairs; Dr Margaret Rogers, National Manager Better Start Ireland; Dr Maresa Duignan, Asst. Chief Inspector, Department of Education and Skills; Teresa Heeney CEO Early Childhood Ireland.

Pictured (l-r) were Fintan Breen National Programme Coordinator LINC Programme with Minister Katherine Zappone TD and Karen Lynch, Manager and inclusion coordinator, Playmates Navan.

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