Northern Ireland

Education Authority postpones decision on special school nurseries

Classroom
Image caption The EA planned to cut hours for children at special school nurseries

The Education Authority (EA) has postponed a decision on cutting hours for special school nursery pupils.

It means seven schools will continue to offer full-time nursery places in the 2017/18 school year.

In March 2016, the BBC revealed that the EA planned to cut the hours children received in special school nurseries from 4.5 to 2.5 hours a day.

That was criticised by the then education minister John O'Dowd, who ordered the EA to review it.

A number of special school principals, parents of children with special needs and MLAs were also critical of the plans.

The EA subsequently apologised and announced that a number of schools would continue to offer full-time places.

Their review was to lead to new arrangements coming into place for pupils starting nursery in September 2017.

However, any new arrangements will not now take effect until September 2018.

Image caption EA chief executive Gavin Boyd said the Assembly election had caused a delay

EA chief executive Gavin Boyd said the delay was due to the assembly election in March, which meant a public consultation on the plans had not been held.

"Public consultations on significant policy proposals could not be launched in the period before an election," he said.

"There is not sufficient time now to complete an eight-week consultation, review responses, and prepare for implementation in line with the original timeframe.

"Therefore, the consultation is likely to commence in September 2017 and interim arrangements are required."

Image caption Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle said there had been 'an attempt to circumvent political accountability'

However, Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle said that the EA were ignoring the views of parents and principals.

"A public consultation was scheduled to run from 10 January to 10 March 2017," he said.

"The EA has instead claimed that the assembly election period, which only commenced on 26 January 2017, delayed this consultation and required an extension of the so-called interim cut.

"Education Authority officials passed this decision to extend the reduction in hours for the 2017/18 academic year at an EA Board meeting in March 2017, when eight political board members had yet to be appointed further to the assembly election.

"This review had been ongoing since at least October 2016.

"It is hard to conclude that the presentation of this decision for approval in the absence of EA Board political appointees was anything other than an attempt to circumvent political accountability on this important matter."

More on this story