Steven Agnew calls for universal pre-school early years’ provision

Speaking ahead of a Northern Ireland Assembly debate on nurture groups in primary schools today, 15th November 2016, Green Party Leader Steven Agnew MLA expressed his hope that the Assembly would endorse his amendment to the proposed motion, which calls for a universal early years’ education provision.

Steven Agnew MLA said: “This debate presents a great opportunity to properly tackle the causes of educational underachievement in Northern Ireland, as well as improve the health and wellbeing of our children and young people. My amendment, which calls for a universal pre-school early years’ education provision, is a much more effective way of doing this than the original motion, which simply proposes the creation of more nurture units.

“I want to tackle the issues that nurture units aim to remediate before they start. I want to ensure that every child goes into school fully prepared, and that parents are given the support they need to ensure that their child has the best start in life.

“This doesn’t mean that nurture units are bad. Far from it, they are necessary to ensure that all children receive the education they deserve. However, for the DUP to see them as the sole solution to educational underachievement, and ignore the many benefits of effective early years’ provision, shows a typical lack of ambition.

“It has been estimated that a universal early years’ system would cost an additional £37m per year. Previous studies have suggested that good quality early years’ education can save the tax-payer up to £9 for every £1 spent on it through reduced health problems, crime and increased employment opportunities in the future. When the Executive can find a quarter of this figure for just one flight, without any sort of business case, this investment in our children is a no-brainer.”



Notes to editors

Nurture groups are a short-term, focused intervention for children with particular social, emotional and behavioural difficulties which are creating a barrier to learning within a mainstream class.

The £37m per year figure comes from NICVA:

The wording of the original motion by the DUP is:

“That this Assembly welcomes the report by the Centre for Evidence and Social innovation at Queen’s University, Belfast, entitled The impact and cost-effectiveness of Nurture Groups in Primary Schools in Northern Ireland; welcomes the commitment of the Minister of Education to continuing to fund the thirty-two nurture units across Northern Ireland; and calls on the Minister of Education to examine potential options to mainstream nurture provision within the current education budget.”

Steven Agnew MLA’s amendment is:

Leave out all after the second ‘Northern Ireland;’ and insert:

“recognises the role effective early years’ interventions can play in reducing the need for Nurture Units; and calls on the Minister of Education to examine potential options to develop a universal early years’ education provision.”

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