Published on: 25/04/2012
The following provides a summary of the position of the Education Minister, John O'Dowd MLA, in relation to pre-school places. This was outlined as part of a Private Members Bill Motion debate on pre-school provision which took place at Parliament Buildings on Monday 23 April 2012.
• The Minister recognised genuine concerns following the first stage of applications and stressed that it was only the first stage, with the second stage running now until 1st June.
• He outlined that during the first stage of applications, there were 22,800 applications since January. He said 84% of these got their first choice, and the vast majority of children were in their parents’ preferred settings.
The Minister further advised that:
• There are 4,129 children still without a place, though there are more than enough spaces left; however, he recognised that these spaces may not be in the right locations. He agreed that children and parents should not have to travel extensively for a pre-school place.
• Steps have already been taken by the Education and Library Boards to address the need for more places going forward.
• At the end of stage 1, parents are told what’s available if they didn’t get allocated a place in stage 1; he stressed here the difference between a choice and a preference. Inevitably, some providers will be more popular than others.
• Minister O'Dowd said he invested earlier this year to increase the provision across all settings.
• He claimed 422 statutory places have been made over the last 2 years and that the sector is increasing in its capacity.
• Announcement: The Minister announced during his speech that he is allocating a further £1.4 million for additional pre-school places; that there will be a total of £1.3 million on a recurring basis to close the gap between the statutory sector and other sectors; and another £1 million (later rising to £2 million) will be invested into Sure Start. This amounts to an additional £6 million being invested in early years and pre-school provision.
• The Minister said he refused to join in the “demonisation” of parents who do not work, often through no fault of their own.
• In response to the many comments on the social disadvantage criteria, in particular from Mr Conall McDevitt MLA, the Minister claimed that this was positive discrimination to alleviate inequality.
• The Minister stressed that the state has a duty to tackle social disadvantage and the idea that working parents were discriminated against is a false argument.
• While Minister O'Dowd stressed the importance of maintaining the social disadvantage criteria, he assured the House he would bring the necessary legislation to remove the July/August criteria to the Assembly before the summer recess.
Early Years 0-6 Strategy:
• In response to MLA queries (in particularly from Mr Mervyn Storey and Mr Conall McDevitt) in relation to the current status of the 0-6 Strategy the Minister assured the House that he would announce the strategy before the summer recess.