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£10m spent on pre-school for two-year-olds

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland spent £10m funding pre-school places for two-year-olds, it has been revealed.

The department's own review questioned the quality of pre-school teaching for toddlers from mainly deprived backgrounds, a Stormont Public Accounts Committee (PAC) report said.

The committee said that a programme introduced by the Department of Education in 1998 to increase the number of children in pre-schools has worked well but could do better.

The PAC report, entitled The Pre-School Education Expansion Programme, says the number of funded pre-school places has almost doubled from 11,000 to over 21,000. However, around 10% of children are still not participating in the scheme. The committee also raised concerns about 1,500 places funded for two-year-olds, primarily from deprived areas, at a cost of more than £10m.

This is despite this age group only being brought into the programme because places were not being taken up by three-year-olds.

The committee’s chairman Paul Maskey said: “The committee was pleased to see how much pre-school provision has improved since the scheme was introduced in 1998.

“However, we are concerned there are still parents who are not taking up places for their children.

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“We have recommended that the department should commission research to identify any obstacles to participation, as it is particularly urgent that non-attending children from disadvantaged areas, who are not likely to receive support from other sources, are identified and benefit from the scheme.”

The report also highlighted the issue of unemployment for newly qualified teachers and commended the practice of these teachers being employed, through the voluntary/private sector, in pre-school settings.

The recommendations also included that unsatisfactory pre-school providers who fail to respond to measures introduced to raise the quality of their provision should be removed from the programme.

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