Northern Ireland

NAHT claims shortage of nursery places in NI

More than a thousand children in NI have not received a free place in pre-school for September, according to the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

The Department of Education said the allocation process has not been completed.

It said it is providing more funding for nursery places.

The NAHT said demand is outstripping supply in some areas.

It claims around 300 children in the South Eastern Education and Library Board have been unable to get a place in a teacher led statutory nursery.

There are a similar number in Belfast and in the west.

The NAHT said around 165 children are unplaced in the North Eastern area. Figures were unavailable for the Southern Education board.

Holy Trinity Primary and Nursery School in Enniskillen has received almost twice as many applications for the places available.

Principal Fintan Murphy said: "Parents are very keen to get into teacher-led nursery provision, and we've found, particularly in the Enniskillen area, that there hasn't been a sufficient number of places to meet that need," he said.

"As a school ourselves, we have 52 places in nursery. We've had 92 applications to consider, so we've had a lot of disappointed parents again this year."

Each nursery has a set of criteria to allocate the government funded places.

Top of the list are older children with July and August birthdays, and those whose parents receive benefits.

Some claim this penalises families who are working.

Colm Burns said his son did not get a place in a west Belfast nursery, but some parents living outside the area did get in because they are on benefits.

His three-year-old son, Aidan, has been offered a play-group.

"It's not just discriminatory against working parents, it's discriminatory against anyone who is not on benefits," he said.

"It is also discriminating against the child, as far as I'm concerned, and it is not taking the child's needs into consideration."

Michael Newman President of NAHT (NI) said: "Parents are very disappointed and distressed they can't get their choice of placements.

"In the longer term, all the research that has been provided through UK studies and international studies would indicate that there are long term benefits to teacher-led education."

Last year, the Department of Education came up with money to fund places for over 90% of three and four-year-olds.

This year it is providing an extra £1.5m to do the same.

Pre school education is not compulsory, and the education boards are not obliged to find places for everyone.

The deadline for any that are still available passed on Friday, so many parents now face an anxious wait until June to find out if their child has secured a place.

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