Belfast Telegraph

Review of nurseries cuts is under way after backlash

By Lesley Houston

The Education Authority (EA) has been ordered by a Stormont minister to review plans to slash special needs nursery provision across Northern Ireland.

Education Minister John O'Dowd urged the EA to reconsider the decision after a massive backlash to the decision to cut special needs education from 4.5 hours a day, to just 2.5 hours.

Many parents were angered that there had been no official confirmation that proposals set before special needs principals last October had become a blanket policy.

Special school principals confirmed they met with the Education Authority last October when they were appraised of what they believed were "just proposals".

The head of Tor Bank in Dundonald, Colm Davis, said he has still not received any official confirmation of the policy, prior to the education minister's intervention.

However, he said he was stunned to see confirmation of that, in writing, to one parent of a special needs boy from EA regional managing director for Belfast, Dr Clare Mangan, on February 26.

"It was a bit of a shock to see it in writing," he said.

In her letter to Belfast woman Nadine Heron, Dr Mangan confirmed: "The recommendation for part-time provision to be implemented regionally was approved by the EA's Children and Youth People's Services Committee in June 2015.

"There was engagement with the special school principals in relation to this amendment in October 2015."

Mrs Heron, mother of three-year-old Luca who has Downs Syndrome, feared the impact of slashing her child's future nursery sessions by two hours would have been "far-reaching and extremely negative".

"My son has a learning disability," she said. "This does not mean he cannot learn.

"This means he needs additional and specialist help to enable him to achieve his potential."

Public sector union Nipsa yesterday said it has been "appalled" by the proposed cuts and that staff had learned of them via the media.

Confirming his call for a review, Mr O'Dowd said he was concerned at "what I consider to be a lack of proper consultation on behalf of the Authority with parents and schools on this matter".

A spokesperson for the EA confirmed it would review the decision in the wake of the minister's call.

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