Parents’ dismay at age ‘U-turn’

Derek and Alison Magill with their daughter Ellen (3)
Derek and Alison Magill with their daughter Ellen (3)
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The parents of a three-year-old girl who want their daughter to start school a year later have said they are “disappointed and saddened” at last week’s “U-turn” by Education Minister John O’Dowd.

Mr O’Dowd announced he is dropping plans for school starting age flexibility, saying there is not enough time to process the legislation within the Assembly mandate.

However, campaigners said they were told by departmental officials in January that preparations were well advanced.

Alison and Derek Magill, whose daughter Ellen’s birthday is right on the July 1 cut-off, feel she is too young to start P1 in September and had wanted it deferred for a 
year.

Said Alison, “I feel he (the Minister) does not fully understand how he is letting these young children down at the most crucial time – the beginning of their education.

“I have emailed him on four occasions to request a meeting ... and I have had one reply saying a meeting would not be beneficial at this 
stage.

“What confuses us most about the current system is that a school can easily defer a child at P7, separating them from their friends and social network at an age where it is more detrimental to their education.”

Mark Langhammer of the ATL teaching union, joint leaders of the campaign, said the decision “beggars belief”.

“This simple and highly popular measure would have benefited thousands of children and improved educational outcomes,” he added.