Newspaper for Crossmaglen, South Armagh, Newry and Down.

Naiscoil objections swayed Minister’s rejection of Bunscoil pre-school

The recent decision by Education Minister Peter Weir to reject a proposal for a statutory pre-school unit at Bunscoil an Iúir in Newry was, in part, influenced by objections from the existing pre-school playgroup, Naiscoil an Iúir, it has emerged.

The Minister faced criticism for turning down the bid from the Bunscoil in Newry to establish a statutory part-time, funded Irish-medium nursery unit, with 26 places.   According to Bunscoil an Iúir, it recommended the establishment of a statutory Naíscoil in place of the existing voluntary pre-school facility in order to bring the Newry Naíscoil into line with every other statutory mainstream nursery in Northern Ireland, “giving it security for the Irish community in Newry”.

A petition created to encourage the Education Authority to consider the proposal outlined the benefits of a statutory nursery, which included the provision of longer hours and free full day nursery places with hot food provided and transport to and from rural areas. The statutory ranking would also have resulted in the employment of a qualified Irish teacher as well as at least one classroom assistant.

“With government funding, a statutory nursery would receive the best resources and cover all accommodation, maintenance costs and staff wages.  A statutory nursery would open up many job opportunities in the Irish education sector in Newry, eventually gaining a larger Bunscoil and a Ard Scoil stream in the area,” the petition read.

However, it has since been reported that although the existing Naiscoil’s outgoing committee endorsed the proposal, some new committee members were against the idea.  They said existing staff provided a “rich and nurturing learning environment” adding they did “not agree that employing a qualified teacher would enhance the learning experience above what is already provided”.

“Small class sizes enhance the learning environment, make the pre-school experience a positive one and mean that any development issues/special educational needs can be identified early,” the committee added.

Concluding that the best option was for the naíscoil to remain as a voluntary pre-school, some members lodged written objections with the Education department opposing a statutory facility.

However, although acknowledging “misgivings” on the part of the existing Naiscoil, governors of the Bunscoil claimed statutory provision would mean the nursery would no longer be dependent on fundraising and would also allow “a single direction of management, control and leadership”, which, they said, are “vital in fulfilling the vision of the Bunscoil long term”.

In the end, however, Minister Weir rejected the plan saying that it might potentially displace the existing good quality voluntary pre-school setting.

Announcing his decision to refuse provision of a statutory pre-school unit, he said: “The evidence does not currently support the establishment of a statutory part-time Irish-medium nursery unit at Bunscoil an Iúir.  This would also have involved the closure of the existing good quality pre-school provision. I believe that the pupils are best served by the current arrangements.”