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Pre-school admission shake-up puts end to birthday advantage


Children born in the summer will no longer have an advantage over younger applicants when it comes to securing pre-school education.

Major changes to pre-school places were announced as part of a shake-up of admissions criteria by the Education Minister yesterday.

The biggest adjustment will see the birthday criteria changed and the definition of social disadvantage will also be re-assessed, in a bid to include low-income families.

At the Assembly yesterday, Education Minister John O'Dowd outlined what the new criteria will be to secure a full-time place at a nursery.

"The key change is that I'm going to remove the July-August birthday criteria, which is disadvantaging young children," he said.

"It has been a demand for some time and recognised in a number of reports.

"I will use the first legislative opportunity to remove that."

Children born in July or August will no longer get priority for places, and Mr O'Dowd said he would review and broaden the definition of social disadvantage.

The preference given to families receiving benefits will be re-assessed, and could be extended to include Traveller pupils and children in care, as well as families on low incomes.

"I'm going to take in family tax credits," he said.

"I also want to look at how we plan the provision of pre-schools because there are some concerns by parents, while they're offered a place it's not near home or viable to go to, so I'm also looking at those criteria as well," he said.

An additional £1.25m has also been allocated to private and voluntary pre-school providers for this year.

This equates to an additional payment of £150 per place.

Mr O'Dowd said it was his priority to make sure all young people received a high-quality education.

"That applies to pre-school education in the same way as to any other sector," he said.

"In the current year, there are over 23,000 children in funded pre-school education with a budget of approximately . This is a significant investment.

"The vast majority of pupils are allocated places in the provider they want, and they all receive a good quality pre-school education which prepares them for the next important phase of primary school and indeed for later life."

The Education Minister also said there was concern at the number of two-year-old children still getting places and he intended to tighten up the rules.

Siobhan Fitzpatrick, from Early Years, said the review was "good news for parents" and would provide "greater clarity" in years to come.

"We hope this will improve the experience of parents seeking high quality pre-school education for their children," she said. "Our concern has always been that children are provided with high-quality accessible pre-school provision."

Belfast Telegraph