Northern Ireland

New funding for pre-school places

School picture
Image caption Additional funding for pre-school places has been announced

The NI Education Minister has announced additional funding of up to £1.3m for pre-school places in Northern Ireland.

Caitriona Ruane announced the funding move on Thursday.

She said that this year there was an "unprecedented shortage of about 1,200 places".

The minister said the move was to "meet the shortage and ensure that, where possible, every child will be placed for the 2010/11 school year".

She said she recognised "the importance of the early years of a child's life and the benefits that quality pre-school education provides and that is why I have made this funding available".

However on Friday, the move was criticised by the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT).

The association said nursery principals were concerned the funding "does not appear to include the provision of any new places in nursery schools and nursery units".

The NAHT said: "We are shocked and dismayed that this entire funding has been given to one section of early years provision and that nursery education has been excluded from this funding."

Meanwhile, the announcement was welcomed by childcare campaigners.

On Friday, the chief executive of the Early Years organisation said there had been a surge in demand for pre-school places.

Siobhan Fitzpatrick said that there was "an indication generally over the last couple of years that there has been a rise in the birth rate".

She said: "So, I think we are beginning to see that affecting pre-school demand at the moment."