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Critics line up to slam Ruane’s ‘atrocious’ children’s strategy

By Kathryn Torney

Concerns have been raised about a long-awaited strategy for young children across Northern Ireland — before it has even been officially launched by the Department of Education.

The National Association of Head Teachers has described Caitriona Ruane’s document as “flawed” and said that children here “deserve much better”.

And Ulster Unionist Party education spokesman Basil McCrea said the strategy is “atrocious, lightweight and embarrassing”.

The Early Years Strategy is due to be launched and put out for consultation by the Education Minister tomorrow — just days before schools and nurseries close for the summer.

The Belfast Telegraph has obtained a copy of the 50-page document.

It covers children aged from birth to six years old and spans a five-year time frame from 2010 to 2015.

Specific details on the resources available and the “priority actions” for the first phase of implementation will only be provided after the consultation period.

However, the document contains the warning that “there can be no assumption, at this point, of substantial new resources becoming available — it may be a case of making better use of existing resources”.

The four key objectives outlined in the strategy are to improve the quality of early years provision, increase engagement with families and communities, improve equity of access and encourage greater collaboration among key partners.

It also says that consideration should be given to the implications of raising the school starting age in Northern Ireland, currently the earliest compulsory school starting date in the UK.

The strategy also raises concerns about special needs provision.

The document concludes: “The provision of quality early childhood services is fundamental to meeting longer-term economic objectives, raising literacy and numeracy attainments, but most importantly, ensuring children have every opportunity to have happy, positive childhoods which will lay the foundation to enable all children to strive to reach their potential at each stage of their lives.”

Mr McCrea, who is a member of the Assembly’s education committee, said: “This strategy should be the department's number one priority but it contains no detail and looks like it has been rushed out because the minister was put under pressure.

“I don’t think there will be any support for this in the Assembly.”

New document fails to deliver for kids, claims union

The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) in Northern Ireland said the new strategy does not deliver for young children.

The union said that the proposals are unclear on the funding needed and also claimed that the strategy fails to recognise that the highest quality provision, according to research and inspectorate findings, is in the statutory sector.

Clare Majury, principal of Holywood Nursery School, is a member of NAHT’s nursery committee.

She said: “The document also places a lot of value on an incredibly small and very limited survey and research by an organisation in the Republic of Ireland which was abolished in 2008.”

The union questioned the department’s claim that there is a need to upskill nursery staff.

Ms Majury said: “The workforce in the statutory sector is already highly skilled and high level qualifications are already mandatory in the nursery sector.

Aidan Dolan, director of education at the National Association of Head Teachers (NI), said: “There needs to be real engagement with the principals of nursery schools where, according to the department’s own inspectorate, the highest quality provision is to be found and with primary school principals who will not wish to see any watering down of high quality standards.”

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