Minister ‘willing’ to meet on school places

John O'Dowd MLA. INLM4710-629con
John O'Dowd MLA. INLM4710-629con
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Education Minister John O’Dowd says he is “more than happy” to meet David Simpson after the Upper Bann MP accused him of rejecting his request for talks on pre-school places.

Mr Simpson had asked for a meeting to discuss the allocation of places locally, and said he was deeply unhappy to be told the Minister was “basically too busy”.

He said, “Following an unprecedented level of resentment from parents who were unable to receive school places for their children, I asked for an urgent meeting with the Minister.

“This was an invaluable opportunity for me and my fellow colleagues to use our positions as elected representatives to communicate these concerns to the head of the department.

“There is a real need for the department to take a detailed look at the allocation criteria and urgent changes must be taken to avert a similar crisis next year.”

In reply, Mr O’Dowd said he tries to facilitate meetings with elected representatives from all parties but time constraints mean it is not always possible to do so.

He added, “In my reply of 3 June I was able to provide Mr Simpson with up-to-date information... which included that... 99.8 per cent of children whose parents applied for a pre-school place at the start of the admissions process and stayed with the process to the end had been allocated a funded pre-school place in the Upper Bann area; and that five pre-school children, whose parents engaged with the process to the end, were unplaced.

“I advised him that the Education Authority would continue to work with parents to place children before the start of the new term in September and that I would be happy to consider specific issues of concern if Mr Simpson wrote to me with more details.

He said if Mr Simpson was still keen to meet with him then he would gladly do so.