Stormont Executive urged to guarantee funded nursery place for all after 16 children miss out
The Executive must do more to ensure that every child is able to attend pre-school after officials revealed that 16 children will not get placed.
Parents and guardians of children across Northern Ireland were notified at the weekend whether or not their child had secured a nursery berth.
The notification letters came following the second stage of the admissions process.
However, the total left missing out may be higher as the department figures refer only to parents who stayed with the process until the end.
With preference given to children from socially-disadvantaged backgrounds whose parents are in receipt of certain benefits, some turned down at the early stage go private.
The Department of Education said almost 100% of parents who stayed with the process secured a place. In April some 790 children were unsuccessful in the first round of the process. However, most have now been placed.
The Department of Education announced that in total almost 23,000 children across Northern Ireland had secured a nursery place.
A spokeswoman added that, overall, 99.9% of children whose parents applied at the start and stayed with the process to the end had been offered a funded place.
She revealed that 16 children who applied at the start of the admissions process, and continued it through to the end, had not been offered a place at this stage.
But she added the Education Authority would continue to work with their parents over the coming months.
The UUP's education spokeswoman Sandra Overend questioned whether that was good enough.
She pointed out that many parents in rural areas were offered pre-school places a long distance from their homes, which made them difficult to accept.
Ms Overend said educationalists had pointed out the vital importance of early years education for children not only for their development, but also as a vital opportunity to diagnose any difficulties which they may need to seek additional support for.
"This is one of several issues that the new Education Minister needs to take a look at," she said.
"It is ridiculous how the process leads to some parents being offered a nursery place a long distance from their home, which can make it unviable.
"There was a commitment made that all children in their pre-school year should be offered a nursery place, but this does not really ring true when year after year a number of children are left without."
Education Minister Peter Weir said his department and the EA had made a real effort to accommodate almost 23,000 children.
"The department and the Education Authority have worked hard to meet demand for pre-school places, including approving or funding additional places across both voluntary and statutory settings," he added.