Belfast Telegraph

Education Authority decision to cut pre-school hours for children with special needs 'set aside' pending review

By Rebecca Black

The Education Authority is to review a proposal to cut hours for pre-school children with moderate to severe learning difficulties from 4.5 hours a day to 2.5 hours.

The cut was revealed in a letter sent from the EA to a parent earlier this month sparking concern among parents of children with special needs.

It confirms that from September 2016 "all pre-school children will receive 2.5 hours in pre-school per day".

Education Minister John O'Dowd intervened last week to demand the Education Authority review its decision.

He claimed the decision is flawed.

Education Authority chief Gavin Boyd and Dr Clare Mangan appeared before Stormont's Education Committee on Wednesday morning.

Mr Boyd said the decision has currently been "set aside" while a review takes place.

Dr Mangan said she does not expect the review to take very long, adding they are conscious of needing to have a policy in place for September.

"It (the review) is not anticipated to run for a long period of time," she told the committee.

"We need to ensure we can make arrangements for children for September 2016."

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Education Authority to review 'flawed decision' to cut nursery hours in Northern Ireland special schools 

Dr Mangan explained the proposed policy was designed to bring consistency to early years provision for children with special needs across Northern Ireland.

"At this point in time there are inconsistency and there are issues around access," she explained.

There are currently 41 special schools in Northern Ireland. 29 of these provide early years classes, and 15 provide part time provision.

The proposal about cutting special needs provision will affect 29 of these schools.

Mr Boyd told the committee that far more children with special needs attend mainstream schools, and the EA would encourage that.

He said around 17,000 children with special needs attend mainstream schools.

Mr O'Dowd said he believes the EA should "go back to the drawing board".

"The EA have to come forward with a decisive position in relation to the future of special needs education in the nursery sector. But their current decision is flawed," he claimed.

"It's flawed in two elements. They've made their decision based on the Learning to Learn policy. The Learning to Learn policy does not relate to special educational needs.

"And they've made the decision without consultation.

"It's key - particularly in areas such as this - that you consult with the schools; the parents and the pupils about the future of early years education in the special educational needs sector."

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