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Early Years plan leaves schools and parents baffled

By Kathryn Torney and Elaine Loughlin

Parents, education groups and children’s organisations have slammed the much-criticised strategy for childhood development at a public meeting, claiming it is too vague and lacks commitment on funding.

They all expressed concerns over the draft strategy at an event hosted by the Assembly’s education committee at Stormont last night.

The Department of Education’s draft Early Years strategy covers provision for children from birth to six, but many people at the event said it was an inadequate document and believe much of it will never be implemented.

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

The strategy 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.

Childcare provider Diane Kiplewsky was worried about where money would be found to implement the strategy.

“Our concern would really be the funding that is going to come forward in terms of improving qualifications,” she said.

“I do believe that skills should be enhanced, I’m just wondering are there going to be spaces in our local colleges of further education and is there going to be a funding mechanism?”

Stephanie Beattie of Dromore Nursery School said: “It was very repetitive and it just seemed like a whole load of memos bundled in together. As a parent, I found it very hard to understand exactly what they were trying to achieve from it.”

Speech therapist Deborah Armstrong of spina bifida organisation ASBAH said her main concern was that children with special needs were not specifically mentioned in any detail.

Alliance MLA Trevor Lunn welcomed the public feedback.

“Early Years is one of the key areas which, with adequate investment, could help save us a lot of money down the line,” he said.

“The views that we have heard so far indicate that people are dissatisfied with the strategy as proposed, but that’s why we have consultations and we look forward to receiving the views of all interested parties.”

The public consultation ends on November 30.

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