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Summer schemes spared brunt of cuts after protest

Summer schemes for children with special needs which were controversially cut are to be partially reinstated.

There was a guarded welcome for news that the Western and South Eastern Education and Library Boards had agreed to put parts of the schemes in their areas back in place.

People affected by the cuts in the Northern area are now hoping their boards will follow suit.

The move came after criticism from Assembly members and a call earlier this week from Education Minister Caitriona Ruane for the boards to reconsider their decisions.

Sinn Fein education spokesman John O'Dowd said: “We welcome this initial step and want to see the full reinstatement of services for children with special needs.”

Mr O'Dowd said the boards should take a more strategic approach to their handling of budgetary pressures in the future.

In a statement, the Western Education and Library Board said yesterday it had discussed the concerns raised.

“As a consequence, the board has agreed to provide a summer scheme for one week, with transport to and from the scheme for those parents who wish to avail of it during this year,” the statement said.

“At the meeting board members acknowledged the difficulties the withdrawal of transport presented to all those involved, and decided, in an attempt to harmonise with the provision by the NEELB and SEELB, to reinstate this element of the scheme.”

The SEELB said it would be providing a similar service and added that it will be facing £3.2m of cuts.

Ms Ruane had faced criticisms from the UUP and DUP over the decision of three of the five education boards to cut summer schemes.

But the minister blamed the boards for cutting the programmes and said the organisations should have been able to manage their resources without hitting such a vital service.

The Sinn Fein minister also accused the DUP and UUP of opposing reforms that would see the boards replaced by a single Education and Skills Authority (ESA).

Ms Ruane said the introduction of the ESA would cut bureaucracy and save £20m each year that could be redirected to frontline services.

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