Lagan Valley MLA Trevor Lunn said: “The strategy as it stands is inadequate and needs serious reform. The Department of Education needs to fundamentally re-draft it following the consultation exercise. The document does not present a coherent approach to developing the sector; there are no defined actions, timescales and no assessment of the likely impact of the strategy.
“The 0-6 years strategy must be underpinned by quality standards, funding commitments, targets and timescales. It is also vital that the Department prioritises many of the actions detailed within the plan.
“The strategy makes limited reference to the needs and level of provision for children with a disability, particularly children whose needs are identified before they go to school. These children require a multi-agency response to ensure that they reach their full potential. In addition to recognising this group, the document should make provision for an effective policy for early intervention and support for children with special educational needs. It is unacceptable that a child in the private or voluntary sector with special educational needs cannot access the same provision as a child in the statutory sector.
“The plan makes numerous references to raising the school age to 6, stating in particular that the initiative is a good place to begin consideration of the potential implications. However, it contains insufficient information on the implications of this change, for example, what will happen to children aged 4 and 5, and how will a change affect the shape of the pre-school sector? The pre-defined response document gives no opportunity to comment on this aspect of the strategy.
“The central reasoning behind having an Early Years Strategy is to provide the best possible start in life for all our children. We need to invest to save and a coherent strategy on this presents us with an excellent opportunity to do so. The Department should not be afraid of making radical changes to this initiative and must pay attention to the views of all consultees.”