Press Release

Assembly Committee Gives Education Programme An 'A' For Effort

Session: 2009/2010

Date: Thursday, 25 March 2010

Reference: PAC/10/09/10

A programme introduced by the Department of Education in 1998 to increase the number of children in funded pre-school places has been given an ‘A’ for effort—but the Northern Ireland Assembly Public Accounts Committee says it could still do better in a report launched today.

Key findings from the Report, entitled The Pre-School Education Expansion Programme, show that although the numbers of funded pre-school places has almost doubled from 11,000 to over 21,000, some 10% of children are still not participating in the scheme.

Speaking at the launch of the report, Paul Maskey MLA, Chairperson of the Committee, said: “The Committee was pleased to see how much pre-school provision has improved since the scheme was introduced in 1998. However, we are concerned that there are still parents who are not taking up places for their children. We have recommended that the Department should commission research to identify any obstacles to participation, as it is particularly urgent that non-attending children from disadvantaged areas, who are not likely to receive support from other sources, are identified and benefit from the scheme.”

One issue that the Report focused on was the quality of provision offered to two-year-old children, a group not originally targeted in the Programme, but brought in due to excess places intended for three-year-olds. Some 1,500 places were funded at a cost of more than £10 million, and there were concerns raised over this.

Mr Maskey said: “The Committee was concerned by evidence from the Department on the quality of provision for the two-year-olds. There does seem to be some benefit for children from disadvantaged communities to have age appropriate pre-school education, and a new programme is being developed through Sure Start. However, the Committee has recommended that the Department needs to carefully consider the needs of these very young children in its new 0-6 Early Years Strategy which is currently being developed.

“The Department and Education and Library Boards (Boards) have achieved a great deal, expanding pre-school provision substantially over the past ten years. They have worked hard to do this, and in many cases have made a significant cultural shift to work with partners in a mixed economy. As we move forward, and as the 0-6 Early Years Strategy comes to completion, we are challenging the education system to develop provision to achieve the wider aims of pre-school education. The child’s social and educational development, nurtured through play in the pre-school environment, should continue seamlessly into Primary 1 and beyond.”


Notes to Editors:

1. The Report also examined the role that voluntary and private providers play in delivering the pre-school programme, concentrating on professional development available to those in the private and voluntary sectors and recommending that training opportunities should be the same across the statutory and private sectors.

2. The Report highlighted the issue of unemployment for newly qualified teachers and commended the practice of these teachers being employed, through the voluntary/private sector, in pre-school settings. The Committee recommended that the Department should explicitly encourage this practice.

3. Standing Orders under Section 60(3) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998 have provided for the establishment of the Public Accounts Committee (the Committee). The statutory function of the Committee is to consider accounts and reports on accounts laid before the Northern Ireland Assembly. These are compiled and laid by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland (C&AG), head of the Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO).

4. The C&AG is empowered to investigate any area of expenditure and has a statutory right of access to all files and papers in Departments and public bodies.

The PAC Committee members are:-


Mr Trevor Lunn

Democratic Unionist Party

Mr Jim Shannon 6
Mr Jonathan Craig
Mr David Hilditch 7,10
Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson 3,4,5,9

Sinn Fein

Mr Paul Maskey (Chairperson) 2
Mr Mitchel McLaughlin

Social Democratic and Labour Party

Mr John Dallat
Mr Patsy McGlone 1,8

Ulster Unionist Party

Mr Roy Beggs (Deputy Chairperson)

Progressive Unionist Party

Ms Dawn Purvis

1 With effect from 04 March 2008 Mr Thomas Burns replaced Mr Patsy McGlone.
2 With effect from 20 May 2008 Mr Paul Maskey replaced Mr John O'Dowd.
3 With effect from 1 October 2007 Mr Mickey Brady replaced Mr Willie Clarke.
4 With effect from 21 January 2008 Mr Ian McCrea replaced Mr Mickey Brady.
5 With effect from Tuesday 27 May 08 Mr Jim Wells replaced Mr Ian McCrea.
6 With effect from Monday, 15 September 08 Mr Jim Shannon replaced Mr David Hilditch.
7 With effect from Monday, 15 September 08 Mr George Robinson replaced Mr Simon Hamilton.
8 With effect from 29 June 2009, Mr Patsy McGlone replaced Mr Thomas Burns.
9 with effect from 18 September 2009 Rt Hon Jeffrey Donaldson replaced Mr Jim Wells.
10 with effect from 18 September 2009 Mr David Hilditch replaced Mr George Robinson.

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