Friday, February 23, 2024

U-TURN DELIGHT

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‘A BIG sigh of relief’ has been breathed across the borough after a Department of Education U-turn on funding cuts that would have closed a number of pre-schools.

The Department has decided to abandon plans to cut funding from a number of early years programmes, including the Pathway Fund which delivers targeted support to disadvantaged 0-4 year-olds.

The manager of a Newtownards pre-school said staff were ‘overjoyed’ when the news came through which, she said, meant staff would keep their jobs and children will be able to attend the pre-school.

“To win is just amazing,” said Laura Ross, manager of Play-A-Way. “We’re overjoyed. We were laughing, giggling, jumping and hugging each other on Thursday.

“It means we can keep our staff, keep our team and have me as a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator so I can still do my job in that section as well as being the manager.”

Laura also explained it means the pre-school will be able to offer the extended hours it has been offering to parents at no extra cost.

“The parents are just over the moon that their children are going to get the same experience next year. It means I’ll have time to work with parents and do some workshops which Pathway allows us to do,” said Laura.

Karen McCormick, leader in charge at Little Stars, in Killyleagh, said the news came as ‘such a relief’ as they were facing closure, staff redundancies or a hike in fees.

“We were panicking and shuffling our finances to see how we could stay open, it was scary,” she said.

“I opened the email on Thursday morning and rang Belfast to make sure it was true before I told anyone else. It’s such a relief we can stay open.

“We were all over the moon, my phone never stopped on Thursday, and now we can all have a big sigh of relief.”

Little Stars, like a number of places such as Cuan Kids Community Pre School in Portaferry, was facing closure as The Pathway Fund was their only source of funding.

“We had absolutely no funding and we were in the same boat as the girls from Cuan Kids Community Pre School, in Portaferry, who were in the same predicament as us,” Karen said.

“It just goes to show you that if everybody stands together and we all shout with one voice, we are heard. We told them how important this is to our children,” she continued.

“There was going to be nothing until the children went to primary school and now it’s all back, it’s a wee miracle. Eventually somebody listened. |

Karen thanked everyone who supported the groups, signed the petition and fought to save the funding.

“I think it has opened peoples’ eyes up to how little funding comes into groups and how much we rely on this funding,” she said.

“For so many groups it’s their lifeline and when they pulled it, it was emotional. But we all got together and shouted out, made our cases and thankfully we are safe until March 2024.

“They said the budget wasn’t there and they found it, so they need to realise that if it’s not the Pathway it needs to be something to be more permanent so groups aren’t waiting year to year to see if they are going to get it.

“It’s not a simple process, we fill in a massive application form every December and we don’t hear until April if we’ve got it. There’s a lot of hard work that goes into it. I think they need to work out something more permanent or even make it a three year project.

“It’s our children’s future.”

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