25 Nov 2005

Northern Ireland losing out on Early Years developments

THE NORTHERN Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Nigel Williams, today warned that provision for under fours is in danger of falling behind England and Wales.

At a keynote speech to an early years conference in Ballynahinch today, Mr Williams said there were too many problems in Northern Ireland that were not being resolved.

“Early years policy is developing in England and Wales. Here it is a dog’s breakfast, while the people at the front line are struggling to maintain their high standards,” he said.

”We have a situation where the best interests of the child are currently in danger of not being met.”

The Commissioner said he was concerned that children as young as two were in nursery schools or classes; cross-community playgroups were under threat because of funding; children with special needs have poor provision; and there is a lack of emphasis on play as an end in itself.

“The work of so many individuals is to be commended,” he said, “but I have many concerns about the overall situation. There is too much confusion at this time, for example with different inspection bodies having a role in monitoring standards of early years provision.

Mr Williams continued: “There must be a consistent policy on early years. We do not want a piecemeal solution. We do not want a wholesale import of UK policy.

“What we want is a coherent, fair strategy that has the rights and best interests of the child at its heart. We want a realistic policy, a realistic timescale and realistic resources.”