Northern Ireland

Education Authority reveals nursery hours cuts plan

School classroom Image copyright PA
Image caption The Education Authority's director of education says Northern Ireland has too many schools

The Education Authority (EA) has published plans which could see the hours some children spend in special school nurseries cut.

Some pre-school pupils in special schools currently spend 4.5 hours a day in school.

The EA is proposing all children attend "for a minimum of 15 hours per week" in future.

The authority's proposals come at the end of a review which was initiated two years ago.

It was ordered by the former Education Minister John O'Dowd in March 2016.

Framework published

That came after BBC News NI revealed that the EA had decided to cut the hours pre-school children with moderate to severe learning difficulties attended school.

That cut, revealed in a letter to a parent, would have seen all children receive 2.5 hours a day in school rather than 4.5 hours.

The EA subsequently apologised to parents over the plans and how they had been communicated.

The EA's proposed framework for future provision for pre-school children with special education needs (SEN) has just been published.

"As part of a consistent programme of offer, each EA special school nursery would establish capacity at around 8 children per class, for a minimum of 15 hours per week," it said.

Image caption John O'Dowd was formerly the Education Minister

The document said, however, that there would be "flexibility to meet the individual needs of the child" but does not outline what this flexibility would entail.

The EA has also made a number of other proposals for what it calls a "significant transformation" of early years SEN.

"There continues to be an increase in the number of children being identified in the early years who have special educational needs for whom additional support is required," it said.

Other plans include:

- To provide earlier support for children with SEN before they enter their pre-school year.

- Offer training to parents in ways in which they can help their child's education.

- Provide additional support for early-years children with SEN in mainstream schools.

The document also said that they wanted to increase the number of nurseries catering for children with SEN attached to mainstream schools, where children would also attend for a minimum of 15 hours a week in classes of 12.

The proposals will now go out for consultation.

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