The Lagan Valley MLA stated: “This is an excellent motion, however, it is a little late. Not a single word about protecting these services appears in the Programme for Government, signed off upon by Ulster Unionist Ministers. This issue has not been prioritised by the Executive, in which Ulster Unionist ministers take part. The funding referred to has been endangered precisely by the failure of those ministers to insist it form part of the Executive’s priorities.
“There is a broad problem here, and that is the lack of support available to working parents with children in schools. Northern Ireland is being left behind again. The assumption remains that mum will be available to collect her child from school at 4pm. This is not the reality of the 21st century workplace or the 21st century school.
“It strikes me that we still have a problem with the basic definition of ‘education’. Education is about much more than just the classroom. For this reason, the Children and Young People Package offers, in theory at least, an excellent addition to the classroom, enabling not just support for working parents so that their children remain looked after much later, but also access to genuine additional educational attainment – be it further study, or sporting and leisure activities. There are also options involving more general ‘lifestyle’ issues, such as anti-smoking or tackling obesity, which enrich educational provision.
“Society is changing, and the nature of schools provision will have to change with it.
“The Executive has responsibility for this – it is up to all Ministers in the Executive to ensure such issues are prioritised. There is no point raising concerns after the priorities are set. Youth services and facilities must not be forgotten about as part of the reforms to education ongoing currently, that is what ‘extended education’ is meant to be all about.”