Northern Ireland

Special needs nursery cuts: O'Dowd says decision by Education Authority is 'flawed'

John O'Dowd
Image caption The Education Minister John O'Dowd has asked the Education Authority to urgently review its decision

The Education Authority's (EA) decision to cut pre-school provision for children placed in special schools is "flawed", according to Education Minister John O'Dowd.

On Tuesday it was revealed that the hours pre-school children with moderate to severe learning difficulties will attend school is to be cut.

Children will receive 2.5 hours a day rather than 4.5 hours.

The cut was revealed in a letter sent from the EA to a parent.

Mr O'Dowd said he heard about the move, which is expected to come into effect in September, on the BBC's Good Morning Ulster programme.

'Flawed'

Speaking to BBC Newsline, Mr O'Dowd said that the EA had to "go back to the drawing board".

"The EA have to come forward with a decisive position in relation to the future of special needs education in the nursery sector. But their current decision is flawed.

"It's flawed in two elements. They've made their decision based on the Learning to Learn policy. The Learning to Learn policy does not relate to special educational needs.

"And they've made the decision without consultation," he said.

"It's key - particularly in areas such as this - that you consult with the schools; the parents and the pupils about the future of early years education in the special educational needs sector."

Mr O'Dowd also said that he does not believe the issue will be resolved before the assembly elections in May.

He has already said that he will not be the education minister in the next assembly term.

"I don't think it will be settled before I leave office. But I have no doubt that whoever the minister next time will want to ensure that the proper decision has been made," he said.

"They will want to protect the most vulnerable in society."

The EA has said the move "is designed to increase the opportunity for children to access special school places," and will provide "greater regional consistency".

It is understood that the reductions will affect children in a total of 39 special schools in Northern Ireland.

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