Northern Ireland

Education Authority 'misled Stormont committee' over pre-school provision

EA Chief Executive Gavin Boyd and director of children's services Dr Clare Mangan appeared before the NI Assembly's Education Committee on 16 March
Image caption EA Chief Executive Gavin Boyd and director of children's services Dr Clare Mangan appeared before the NI Assembly's Education Committee on 16 March

The Education Authority (EA) provided misleading evidence to a Stormont committee investigating pre-school provision in special schools.

Two EA officials appeared before the education committee on 16 March.

They were explaining their plan to cut pre-school hours for children from 4.5 hours a day to 2.5 hours a day.

In a briefing to the committee, the EA said no principals had "made contact to express concern" about the cut, between October 2015 and the hearing date.

However, the BBC has obtained three separate written documents sent to the EA during that period in which principals opposed the move.

In response, the EA said that they had made an "oversight" and would "never seek to mislead the education committee".

In March, the former education minister John O'Dowd criticised the EA proposal as "flawed" and accused the EA of making the decision "without consultation".

The cut in hours would have affected children in 14 of 29 special schools that offer nursery and pre-school places.

Image caption The EA has been accused of failing to consult parents and principals fully about the planned cuts to pre-school provision

Gavin Boyd, the EA's chief executive, and Dr Clare Mangan, its director of children's services, subsequently appeared before the Northern Ireland Assembly's education committee on 16 March.

In a briefing paper provided to the committee they said that after a meeting with special school principals in October 2015 "none have made contact to express concern regarding the progression to part-time" hours.

However, three documents provided to the EA which suggest otherwise:

  • The Strategic Leadership Forum for Special Schools (SLFSS), which represents special school principals, emailed Dr Mangan directly in November 2015 saying "most of the school leaders disagree" with the move to part-time hours and asking for further discussions. Receipt of the email was acknowledged by Dr Mangan's PA.
  • A further submission from SLFSS to the Northern Ireland Assembly's education committee in January 2016 also said that "staff, governors and parents totally disagree with the concept." This was also forwarded by email to Mr Boyd and Dr Mangan.
  • Separately, Arvalee Special School in Omagh, County Tyrone, sent a review document to the EA in January 2016 maintaining that a move to 2.5 hours a day "would have a significant negative impact on pupil development".

Jonathan Gray, the principal of Arvalee Special School, said he and his governors had meetings with EA officials to express their concerns.

"We raised the issues that we had regarding it in January and I stand by that," he said.

"Myself and governors raised concerns and we are open to discussing those concerns at any time."

Image caption The principal of Arvalee special school, Jonathan Gray, said he and his governors raised concerns about the cuts with the EA in January

"This is about our children and the intervention we can do for some of the most vulnerable children in our community."

In a statement, the Education Authority said: "In making this statement to the committee, the principals' submission was overlooked by EA.

"This was an oversight. The Education Authority would never seek to mislead the education committee."

In March, Mr O'Dowd also ordered the EA to carry out a review of its decision and carry out a proper consultation.

In a letter to a parent on 16 May, seen by the BBC, Dr Mangan said the EA had "concluded this review and has established a way forward".

However, in a further statement to the BBC the EA said the review had not actually been concluded.

Image caption Chris Lyttle said the issue left a lot of parents confused and angry

Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle, the new vice-chair of the education committee, said the authority had not properly consulted parents and principals about the plan.

"The manner in which the authority have dealt with this issue has left a lot of parents confused and angry," he said.

"They want full and open consultation on this issue and that just hasn't happened."

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