Education news

Funding found for new Irish language nurture units

SDLP assembly member Nichola Mallon was among those who joined the protest

NEW units for children at risk of falling behind in Irish language schools will open this year after winning a fight to secure funding.

Scoil an Droichid in south Belfast and Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin in the north of the city will start operating `nurture' groups from September.

The proposed pilot scheme had looked under threat when the schools were told there was no money available. This led to a protest on the steps of Stormont.

The Department of Education funds nurture units in 30 primary schools at a cost of £2.26 million a year.

The concept has been widely developed across the UK to address identified behavioural needs within schools, offering a safe and welcoming environment to promote learning and positive behaviours.

They are recognised as playing a key role in tackling under-achievement early in a child's life by providing targeted support.

Hundreds of children - from P1 to P3 - benefit from extra help in special facilities that are typically equipped with kitchens, sofas, and quiet rooms.

Scoil an Droichid principal Fionnguala McCotter said the two Irish-medium schools were told in April they met the criteria for nurture provision.

She only learned there was no funding available just before the end of the school year, after pupils had been identified and assessed and training provided to staff.

The department said it was made clear that the commencement of the pilot was contingent upon securing funding - which has now been found.

A spokeswoman said last night that nurture funding had not been specifically provided for in the department's opening 2016/17 budget allocations.

The Department of Finance, she added, had now indicated its support for an additional £1m in 2016/17, which will allow the units to be funded.

There is also extra money being made available for special education and employment protection for support staff.

"This additional funding will not impact upon, nor reduce, the department's existing 2016/17 resource budget allocations," she said.

Sinn Féin's Barry McElduff, chairman of the assembly education committee, welcomed the funding.

"This is great news for both schools. There is no doubt that nurture units play a hugely beneficial role in children's education," he said.

A legal challenge to the initial withholding of funding had been mounted on behalf of a father of two children at Scoil An Droichid.

In a statement last night, O'Muirigh Solicitors in Belfast said it was delighted with the reversal.

"This decision marks a significant victory for the many Irish-speaking children with special educational needs who will now have the benefit of nurture group provision on a par with their English language speaking peers."

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