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Councillors to meet O'Dowd over lack of nursery places

By Rebecca Black

Published 05/10/2015

Education Minister John O’Dowd
Education Minister John O’Dowd

A cross-party group of Belfast councillors are to meet Education Minister John O'Dowd to demand more nursery places.

This summer some 1,006 children missed out on getting their first choice of nursery school.

Many managed to secure places at nurseries further from their homes, but 39 did not manage to secure a place at all.

Every political party on the council backed a motion brought by the SDLP's Kate Mullan calling for Mr O'Dowd to ensure the provision of free, pre-school, curriculum-based nursery education places for every child.

There was also unanimous backing for a suggestion from the UUP's Jim Rodgers for the council to send a cross-party group to meet Mr O'Dowd about the issue.

Ms Mullan said Stormont's Programme for Government included a commitment to provide a year's funded pre-school education to every parent who wanted it for their three or four-year-old.

"Yet my experience... there appears to be a recurring pattern with distressed parents contacting elected representatives trying to get assistance because their child has not been able to gain a place in their local nursery school, or indeed any nursery place," she said.

"When a parent receives a rejection letter advising they have not got into the nursery school of their choice, their alternative can be a place in another nursery school possibly across the city or in the opposite direction to where they need to be going in the morning. The department's response has been that the majority of applicants who have stayed with the process have got the opportunity of a nursery place, but this does not account for the large number who drop out of the process in frustration."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Education said there was enough funding to meet the increased need for pre-school places for this academic year.

"Pre-school is a non-compulsory phase of education but most parents - around 92% - choose to apply for a funded pre-school place for their child," she said.

"In recognition of its importance the Programme for Government commits us to ensuring that at least one year of funded pre-school education is available to every family that wants it. This target has been met for the past three years."

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