A Dromore man whose daughter couldn’t get a funded pre-school place in town has blasted a system he says favours the ‘work-shy’.
Ronnie Herdman waded into the annual storm of protest over pre-school provision after he and his wife were directed to Laurencetown in search of a place for their little girl, Heidi.
“We had applied to two pre-schools locally here in Dromore and have been turned down for both,” he said.
“We have been told to contact a pre-school in Laurencetown, which is of no use to us whatsoever.”
Courting controversy, an angry Mr Herdman said their failure to gain a local pre-school place for Heidi amounted to nothing short of discrimination by the system against traditional families and working parents.
“We both feel enraged,” he said, “that our child is paying the price and being discriminated against just because her parents are trying to do things right in life.
“We are married, both work full time, pay taxes, rates, national insurance.
“Neither of us have ever claimed any benefits.
“We feel agrieved that those who are unemployed and lie at home every day have the chance to have their kids in nursery before us (sic) who work hard to make ends meet.
“Then we shell out tax on our wages to fund this lifestyle for them. It’s a joke.
“Why do they need their kids looked after anyway? It’s not like they are going to work.”
The local man said the system as it stood was sending the wrong message to the parents of the future.
“I think its a disgrace,” he said, “that a local couple who try not to rely on the state and drain society cannot get a place locally for their child.
“What kind of message does this send to future generations?
It certainly does not inspire or encourage them to do things by the book.
“Those of us who get married, get jobs and generally try to live right are constantly penalised whilst the ‘work-shy’ of society are taken by the hand for a stroll through a life of benefits luxury.”
Elsewhere, Stormont Education Minister John O’Dowd is facing direct criticism for having, in the words of one Westminster election candidate, failed parents and pupils over the allocation of funded pre-school places.
The current system of allocating those places was simply not working, said Upper Bann Ulster Unionist MLA and election candidate Jo-Anne Dobson.
“Year on year,” she said, “we continue to have disappointed parents and children who do not receive their preferred choices.
“This issue has serious financial implications for the parents of children who are denied a place, many of whom are working parents who can ill afford to pay. The criteria is completely wrong, but the Minister simply refuses to listen.”
Mrs Dobson said the Ulster Unionist Party manifesto pledged to end the postcode lottery for pre-school places.
“The Sinn Fein Minister can boast about huge success rates in educational placement offers, but what he does not highlight is how impractical many of these offers actually are to families, many of who have no option but to reject them,” she said.
“This is an issue which is currently at the forefront of many parents’ minds, but the fact is that every year we continue to have disappointed parents and children. I have represented so many parents to the former Southern Education Board, in writing and in person, and this year will be taking up their cases with the new Education Authority and with the Minister directly.”
Mrs Dobson added: “The current unmet need for funded nursery places is having a devastating effect on parents every year and, sadly, the damage caused will show on our young children for generations to come.
“I am calling on the Minister to listen to parents and to fulfil his programme for government pledge to provide a funded pre-school place for every pupil.”
The Leader contacted the education authorities for comment but by time of going to press no response was forthcoming.