Nursery crisis

ONE third of children in the SELB area who didn’t get into nursery had applied to schools in the Craigavon area.

A total of 114 children were denied places in Craigavon - and in the entire SELB area 339 children failed to secure a place.

Parents received letters at the weekend and this week school principals and politicians were inundated with queries and complaints.

However, an SELB spokesperson pointed out that this is the end of the first stage of the process and there were just under 350 places still available in the SELB area

“As has been the case in recent years the number of applications has increased by almost 3% on the previous year,” he said.

Mum-of-two Leanne Archer is furious her eldest son Logan was not accepted into her first preference - Dickson Nursery School.

She said the school told her that the nursery was over-subscribed.

Mrs Archer, whose son is just three-and-a-half, said the three other schools she had chosen as her third, fourth and fifth choices had also said they were over-subscribed and now Logan has no nursery place to take up.

Mrs Archer, who works as a classroom assistant, is fearful that because her eldest son has been refused a place, this will have a knock-on effect on her youngest son Brodie, who is almost two years old. This is because Mrs Archer believes schools give a priority to those with siblings already attending.

Furthermore, Mrs Archer, whose husband William works as a plumber, said she feels that her children are being discriminated against because their parents work.

She said those children whose parents are on certain benefits are given priority when it comes to allocating nursery places.

“How are you supposed to get your child a nursery place if you are discrimiinated against from those on benefits,” said Mrs Archer.

And she said that those schools she put down as second, third and fourth choice did not consider your child as you had not put them down as first choice.

DUP MLA Alderman Stephen Moutray said: “I have been inundated with calls from parents living in the Lurgan area concerning nursery provision, and the fact that their child has not been accepted by any of their choices of local nursery providers.”

“This year I have witnessed an unprecedented level of dissatisfaction and disgruntlement at the distribution of places and the fact that working families feel they are being discriminated against because they work and are not classified as socially disadvantaged.”

“I believe it is time that the Minister takes cognisance of this equality issue and changes the criteria set by the Department of Education immediately, so as to ensure that there is fairness for those parents who do work and want to obtain a nursery place close to their home. To this end I will be making representation to the Minister in this regard.

“Given the concerns that people have raised with me I spoke with the Southern Education and Library Board and have learnt that over 100 target age children remain unplaced and whilst I recognise that there are places still available in a selection of nurseries throughout the Borough quite frankly they are not suitable for people living in the Lurgan area. They are unsuitable and often 10/15 miles away from their homes which is totally unacceptable.”

He added: “This is causing a lot of distress within our communities and I would call on the Minister to address this matter immediately. Additionally whilst I wholeheartedly welcome the confirmed nursery provision at Waringstown Primary School I am deeply disappointed that the Department has not made this provision available for this September given the number of places required in the Craigavon and particularly the Lurgan area.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Samuel Gardiner said it had been very difficult for the schools and no principal wants to refuse a child a place. “There are only so many spaces,” he said.

Mr Gardiner added: “Hopefully when the new nursery opens in Waringstown it will ease the situation.”

A spokesperson for the SELB said: “The Board is aware of the concerns of working parents and parents who have children with birthdays that would fall in the summer term of a school year and these have been communicated to the Department of Education in the past. However, the Pre-School Education in Schools (Admission Criteria) Regulations (NI) 1999 decree that priority is given in the first instance to: Children from socially disadvantaged circumstances (whose parents receive Income Support or income based Jobseekers’ Allowance); and Children with 4th birthdays between 2 July and 31 August.

“If all applicants meet the statutory criteria, it is the individual provider’s sub-criteria, including tie-breaker e.g. that determine which children are selected for admission Responsibility for determining and applying the admissions criteria/sub criteria rests with the individual provider,” he said.

In response to the huge demand for places in Craigavon, the SELB spokesperson said: “For September 2012 parents were provided with a list which details a number of settings which still have places in the area. The Pre-School Education Advisory Group agreed to increase the capacity in Trinity Park Pre-School to address the pressure for places in the Belfast Road side of Lurgan. The PEAG will continue to review the need for places in the area as Stage 2 of the admissions procedure progresses.

“All parents seeking a primary place for their child must submit a primary application and the attendance of their child at a particular pre-school setting does not always have a bearing on where the parent decides to apply for a primary place.”

Schools with nursery places in the Craigavon area still available at the time of going to press are: Ballyoran Nursery Unit, Portadown (FT); Tullygally Nursery Unit, Craigavon (FT); Drumnamoe Nursery School, Lurgan; Aghagallon Playgroup; Lurgan Little Acorns Playgroup, Derrymore; Little Oaks Pre-School, Portadown; Loughshore Playgroup; Maghery Naiscoil Chois Locha, Lurgan; Naiscoil na Banna, Portadown; Peatlands Playgroup, Portadown; Trinity Park Pre-School, Magheralin.