Apology over special school hours cuts

Sharon O'Connor
Sharon O'Connor

The Education Authority has apologised for how it handled plans to cut hours for pupils in local special school nurseries when they were questioned by MLAs at Stormont’s Education Committee last Wednesday.

Chair of the Education Authority (EA), Sharon O’Connor, said she was “very sorry for the upset that parents are continuing to experience.”

After the meeting, Ms O’Connor said, “On behalf of the Authority, I apologise unreservedly to parents who have been upset by the handling of this issue to date. “I wish to assure them no long term changes to existing arrangements will be implemented in advance of the outcome of the review which will include a full consultation involving school principals, parents, early years’ practitioners and other relevant stakeholders.”

The Education Authority (EA) suspended a plan to cut the hours of children attending nurseries in eight special schools for at least a year.

In a letter to Education Minister Peter Weir, the EA said they will not introduce new arrangements until September 2017.

However, the Authority clarified that eight out of 14 nurseries will continue to offer 4.5 hours a day in September 2016.

Six other special schools which offer full-time nursery hours will be reduced to 2.5 hours.

They are Greenwood and Harberton schools in Belfast, Knockevin school in Dundrum, Parkview school in Lisburn, Ardnashee in Londonderry and Brookfield in Moira. The EA proposed to cut pre-school provision in March for all pupils in special school nurseries from 22.5 hours a week to 12.5 hours.

The cut would have affected disabled children in 14 special schools who currently offer full-time places.

That decision was criticised by the former Education Minister John O’Dowd, who ordered the EA to review it.

The Authority proposed children receive 2.5 hours a day in all schools that offer pre-school provision rather than 4.5 hours from September 2016.

A group of parents took a petition which had over 6,000 signatures against the cuts to special needs nursery hours to Stormont, last week.