Parent calls for pre-school place priority rethink

A Lisburn woman whose daughter has been turned away from six local pre-schools was invited instead to apply for places in Millisle, Newcastle and Portavogie.

Insulted by the offer an angry Michelle Gibson called for a policy change to remove the social disadvantage priority favouring “children from families whose parents do not work”.

The local mother has written to seek a meeting with Stormont Education Minister John O’Dowd, who himself said this week the Pre-School Programme provided funded pre-school education, not free day care, and its focus was on the needs of children.

Ms Gibson, however, said she was appalled and disgusted to learn her daughter Amelia had failed to gain a local place. “I had put down six choices on the form,” she said, “and never dreamt in a million years that we would be rejected from all six.”

Born in July 2011, she said, her daughter narrowly missed the cut-off date for pre-school applications last year and would not now get any education until the age of five years and two months.

“My partner and I are both taxpayers and have worked all our lives,” she said.

“It is our taxes that go towards paying for the pre-school places our child has now been denied.

“I am therefore deeply angered to discover that children from families whose parents do not work are given priority over my child.

“Why should my child be disadvantaged because her parents are out working, earning a living?

“This policy needs to change. Education should be for all children and places should be awarded fairly. “

Mr O’Dowd, meanwhile, said his officials would continue to work closely with the Education Authority to ensure every effort was made to find suitable places for children.

He said: “Just under 96% or 22,623 children have been offered a pre-school place for 2015/16 at this stage of the process; 85.6% or 20,221 have been placed in their first preference setting.

“This is very positive given the increase - almost 400 - in the overall number of applications received this year.

“Research has shown that children from socially disadvantaged circumstances tend to experience more difficulty at school than other children and priority is, therefore, given to these children as part of wider efforts to tackle educational underachievement.

“The Pre-School Programme provides funded pre-school education; it is not free day care. Therefore our focus is on the needs of the children.”