No full-time pre-school place for daughter

I RECENTLY contacted John O’Dowd regarding the situation of pre-school allocation, then I read your article and was glad other parents feel the same and unless we all speak out together I’m not sure what else can be done to find a solution for my daughter by September.

As a full time working mother, I was very disappointed to receive word that my daughter cannot get a full time place in pre-school education.

My husband and I both work full time and because of this feel we are being discriminated against due to the current criteria for pre-school education.

Our daughter is 4 years old in July 2012 and is therefore third on the list of criteria, but we were warned by the principal of the pre-school we applied to that all full time places will be taken by those on benefits. Full time is typically 4.5 hours per day and part-time is 2.5 hours per day. Is it not obvious that people at home and not in current employment are more likely able to accommodate a part time position than those working full time?

Despite the disheartening advice we applied for both full-time and part-time positions through the SEELB for Lisburn and received word on Saturday 31st March that we have the offer of a place 12:30-3pm with a playgroup. At present we are unsure whether we can even accept the place since this time slot cannot be accommodated by any employer, but when we made further enquiries were told we were lucky to receive a place at all and have no grounds to make an appeal where we have been offered a place. There is nothing else left except private daycare or nursery units further afield.

A private day care nursery charge on average £35 per day and since we also have another baby on the way, will cost £70 per day for childcare. Although my husband and I are lucky to have jobs at the moment, we are young and just starting out so are still at the lower end of the pay scale where £70 a day is not an economically viable option. As a result I would be better off quitting my job to be on benefits, not only for financial reasons but also to guarantee a place in education for my children. Surely this is not something the government should be promoting - that full time working parents paying taxes would be better off not working and not paying taxes which are supposed to fund our children’s education?

If the criteria were reversed, where taxpaying parents were given preference over those on benefits, there would be an outcry of discrimination against those “socially disadvantaged” and that is not something I am trying to promote.

However, a number of other working parents I have spoken to are also upset about the current criteria since it is clearly those who are working full time who are put at a disadvantage.

I am suggesting a much more equal approach where the criteria makes much better sense in deciphering which children get into which school by way of birthday, distance to the school, siblings at school etc. Surely this should be used as the primary acceptance criteria and would prevent places in Lisburn schools being allocated to those as far away as Maghaberry where the Nursery Unit still has availability!?

What is the aim of first looking at a person’s financial situation to decide school allocation? Is it to force working parents to pay for private education despite already paying tax to fund public schools? I realise pre-school is not a compulsory element to my child’s education but this ultimately affects primary school enrolment leaving little hope to secure a place in a primary school for next year without going on benefits.

Ruth Kinkead