A PLAYGROUP worker has spoken of the devastating effect that education cuts will have on children.
Michelle McGrory from Newtownbutler Playgroup helps run ‘The Railway Kids Programme’ for young children aged two to three-years-old and has been funded by the Pathway Fund that was set up to enhance amongst other things, the pre-school sector.
However, the cuts – which are to be imposed next month – could spell the end of that programme leaving many children without a facility to go to as well as threaten the jobs of staff.
“The Railway Kids programme is for two to three-year-olds and hosts 24 children with two members of staff in charge,” said Michelle.
“Childcare facilities in this area are very limited and it is vital to keep it.
“Unfortunately, if the funding cuts are applied, then the programme will have to close. The funding we did receive was only £30,000 but it has kept the programme running for the year.
“The programme is like a ‘pre pre-school’ so to speak. We have sensory learning and learning through play and we also have special needs kids coming as well.
“We got a letter (from the Education Authority) to say that the funding was there until June. But after that, they didn’t know what was happening because we obviously don’t have any government (in Stormont) right now. However, it looks like funding will be withdrawn if Stormont is not back up.
“This could have long-term effects on the children. The old adage of every pound that is not spent now will lead to eight pounds being spent in the future is very true. Playgroups are kind of an early intervention to help a child on the right pathway.
“The programme runs for 48 weeks of the year and then there’s a summer scheme as well. We also invite parents in on a Friday to do parent’s workshops and do the activities with the children.
“There are other playgroups but they are completely full. That is how the Pathway Funding came about because there were not enough places for two to three-year-olds.
“If the cuts happen, then two staff members would be out of a job. One of the girls has been here for 32 years after starting at the playgroup when she was 16. I myself have been here 18 years.”
Fermanagh & South Tyrone MLAs, Aine Murphy and Tom Elliott have both hit out against the cuts.
Aine Murphy said: “Pre-school groups who provide early years education and learning services are vital to all communities, especially in rural areas. I have been listening to the serious concerns raised by various providers locally and will continue to make the case for this support to be continued long term.
“Our society has been left at the mercy of a savage and unadulterated Tory Budget as a result of the DUP blockade of the Executive with no local ministers at the helm to do their utmost to protect our people from the worst impacts.
Tom Elliott added: “Any reduction of funding is cruelly hitting at both children and parents. Staff at every playgroup and nursery will be finding themselves under pressure. A lot of those staff members go well beyond the point of their normal work – as well as their pay – as they give significant support and assistance to young people.”
In response the Department for Education confirmed that funding would be extended until the end of June and would be reviewed for the following year.
A spokesman said: “To sustain important Early Years services over the next three months, the Department has made an interim allocation of funding of £1.05m in respect of the Pathway Fund for the period 1 April 2023 to 30 June 2023.
“The Department will confirm the final Pathway Fund allocation following consideration of the education budget.”
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