Education Authority to review special needs pre-school cuts
A plan to cut the number of hours children with moderate learning difficulties spend at pre-school is to be reviewed.
Unions hit out angrily at proposals to reduce provision for special needs nursery pupils from 4.5 to 2.5 hours a day.
The changes were due to come into effect at 39 special schools from September.
While many parents were left upset, like those in mainstream schools they have no legal right to a pre-school place for their children.
The Education Authority (EA) said special school principals were advised of the change late last year.
It emerged last night, however, that the EA plans to review its position after being asked to "urgently revisit" the decision by education minister John O'Dowd.
"In recent years there has been a significant increase in demand for early years special school places. In response to this increased demand, provision is currently made on a part-time basis in 15 out of 29 schools. This constitutes 55 per cent of special schools who offer early years education," an EA spokeswoman said.
"The EA is committed to promoting increased consistency across the region. This is influenced by an increased need to ensure that the EA has adequate provision in special schools for those children who require it; a duty to ensure that there is capacity to meet not only current need, but also future need.
"EA engaged with special school principals in October 2015 and the educational psychology service regarding the proposed full implementation of part-time provision. The EA will now undertake a review in line with the letter from minister John O'Dowd of 8 March 2016."
Mr O'Dowd said he asked the EA to review its position given a "lack of proper consultation on behalf of the authority with parents and schools".
"Before reaching a final decision on how pre-school provision in special schools should be designed and delivered, I have called on the EA to provide me with assurances that there has been full and open engagement with those most directly affected by any decision on pre-school provision in special schools and that they have been listened to," he said.
"I have also emphasised that the overriding consideration must be how best to meet the needs of the children who will be accessing that provision."
Earlier, Nipsa general secretary Alison Millar had said it was "a disgrace that the most vulnerable children, many with complex needs, are being targeted".
Ms Millar also said she was upset that she only learned about the proposal when it was reported by the BBC.
"I have already received a number of queries from worried staff who work as classroom assistants and nursery assistants in the 39 special needs schools about what this may mean for their future employment," she said.
"I am angry that staff have heard this announcement over the airwaves and via the media. This is no way to treat staff who deserve more from the Education Authority and the education minister."