9th May 2023, 15:50
The Pathway Fund was created to improve the development of children who are at risk of not reaching their full potential within the school system.
The plea comes from a number of groups across east Antrim, including Rainbow Playgroup, Carrickfergus; Mount St Nicholas Playgroup, Carrickfergus; Larne Community Care Centre and Hollybank Pre-school in Monkstown, who could be impacted if the funding is lost.
Speaking to this newspaper, Lorraine Brier, the leader of Hollybank Pre-School, said: As with all the current Government cuts on education, the children who cannot speak for themselves are affected the most.
Danny Donnelly MLA with some of the service providers who will be impacted by the loss of funding.
“After the negative impact the pandemic had on their education, well-being and mental health, just when we in the education sector were beginning to recover, we are once again at the fore of Government cuts in spending.
Our youngest of children, the pre-schoolers whose lives were thrown into turmoil when Covid struck, lost vital opportunities to extend communication and social skills.
“We have found there to be a vast difference across this area with the children currently attending compared to previous years, which has a holistic detrimental impact on learning ability.
The Pathways funding allows not only for additional support to be provided for, but also for earlier identification in children experiencing delays in achieving age appropriate milestones, but also in supporting early identification in children with additional needs. Such interventions can have a huge impact on the child prior to beginning their primary school education.
Stewart Dickson MLA alongside party colleagues Aaron Skinner and Lauren Gray with service providers who will be impacted by the cuts.
Highlighting some of the challenges facing the sector, she added: If this funding is withdrawn, many voluntary settings will no longer be able to operate, let alone provide this vital component in our childrens development.
Each year we are over subscribed, showing the demand in the area for the service. We are heavily reliant on the Pathways funding which has ensured we can continue to deliver the high standard of provision the children in the area deserve. The children will again be the victims and lose out on a vital stepping stone necessary to support them in their journey in education and we ask that the Department of Education reconsider the withdrawal of the funding, as the statistics provided by the Early Years Organisation have shown it is vital that this financial support is continued.
Alliance MLAs Danny Donnelly and Stewart Dickson met with the local groups last week and echoed their calls to keep the funding channel open.
Mr Donnelly said: Creating a sound foundation begins with early years. All young people suffered major disruption to their education during Covid so more than ever they need the benefits that early years provides.
Commenting on the financial situation, a spokesperson for the Department of Education said:
has now received its budget allocation for 2023-24 from the Northern Ireland Office and is working through the detail. The allocation is extremely challenging and may require significant reductions across a wide range of areas to remain within budget.
To sustain important Early Years services over the next three months, DE has made an interim allocation of funding of 1.05m in respect of the Pathway Fund to all 187 settings eligible for a Pathway award in 2023/24 for the period 1 April 2023 to 30 June 2023.
In recent years, the Pathway Fund has benefited from 2.3m Confidence and Supply monies (annually) which has now come to an end. The Department will confirm the final Pathway Fund allocation following consideration of the education budget.
Early Years, a body working to promote high quality childcare for children aged 0 – 18 and their families across Northern Ireland, highlighted the success of the Pathway Fund.
A spokesperson for the group said: The Pathway Fund has been instrumental in providing over 13.5 million in critical investment in services for over 54,000 children aged 0-4 years since 2016 and has clearly presented evidence which supports the demonstrable impact the investment has made in support of the Department of Educations vision: A system that is recognised internationally for the quality of its teaching and learning, for the achievements of its young people and for a holistic approach to education.
“It is both unfortunate and regrettable that the early years education and learning sector in Northern Ireland is now significantly impacted during this unprecedented financial crisis. A decision to cease funding will cause further damage to a sector already experiencing a workforce and cost crisis and will inevitably lead to a deterioration of infrastructure, including the closure of services. Research has clearly demonstrated that the highest rate of economic return comes from the earliest investments in children.
‘Children will be the victims if Pathway Fund is cut ‘ claims pre-school leader
9th May 2023, 15:50