NI21 Deputy Leader and South Down MLA John McCallister has called for an emergency meeting with the Education Minister to find out why there was a lack of pre-school places in Rathfriland.
Mr McCallister claims he has been inundated with complaints from disappointed parents who did not get a place for their children at first or second choice nurseries.
Meanwhile Councillor Glenn Barr has called the situation throughout the area ‘regrettable’ and has called for action.
Mr McCallister said, “I feel our youngest have been let down. I am sure other areas have been affected too, but I have been mainly speaking to parents in the Rathfriland area. We have a huge mess now and I feel it must be sorted.
“The problem seems to have come from the fact that new nursery units opened at Drumadonnell, Annaclone and Bronte Primary Schools – which were badly needed to address an overall shortage and are very welcomed.
“However these extra places have had a huge impact on Rathfriland Pre-School meaning they had to drop their afternoon sessions due to a lack of demand.
“It seems that the new nursery units aren’t able to mop up the children from the area who didn’t get accepted to their first choice. This could have been and should have been prevented.”
“The Minister must take a closer look at the figures here and we must work out a plan very quickly. I also feel that some of the criteria must be looked at again.
“I will also challenge the Minister over some of the options made to parents. I think it is very unfair and clearly inappropriate to ask parents to take their children to nurseries miles away from home for a couple of hours every day. In many cases it is simply not practical and I think it is putting huge strains on families.”
“I have been inundated with anxious parents voicing their concerns.”
Councillor Barr said, “I myself as a parent was in this same predicament a few years ago, so I know only too well how ‘let down’ and ‘worried’ these parents are feeling.
“This regrettable situation has not arisen overnight. I expect that the SELB should have known where the demand for preschool education should be at its highest, and yet again has done nothing to fix the problem.
“I called on both, the SELB and the Minister to come to a public meeting to explain themselves. I will be doing everything to help local parents. If anyone would like to speak to me please contact me on 07713 391927.”