Magherafelt school plans new nursery unit

A MAGHERAFELT primary school has submitted plans to the Education Authority (EA) to establish a nursery unit.

The Board of Governors of Spires Integrated Primary School proposed the creation of a statutory nursery unit at their existing site on 84 Moneymore Rd, Magherafelt.

The school want to provide 26 part-time nursery places with effect from 1st September 2019.

It is understood the period for any potential objections or support has now ended and a decision by the Department of Education NI is in the pipeline.

The views of the Governors, staff and parents were unanimously in favour of taking forward a development proposal for a nursery unit.

In relation to the proposal, a modular classroom and toilets would need to be provided and furnished to provide suitable accommodation for a single class nursery unit and external works would be required to provide suitable play areas and appropriate fencing around the building.

It is anticipated that the cost of this would be in the region of £300,000. Staffing one teacher and one part time classroom assistant would be required at an annual cost of approximately £48,000

The drive for this current development has been as a response to parental requests over the years to establish an integrated nursery school on the site of Spires IPS. There is currently no integrated pre-school provision in the Magherafelt area whilst all of the statutory provision (in the controlled, maintained, Irish medium and special schools) within three miles of Spires IPS have pre-school provision on site.

In their proposal the school argued: “It is a strong sustainable school which has been oversubscribed at P1 in four of the last six years. The addition of a nursery unit at Spires IPS would assist the DE (Department of Education) in its duty ‘to encourage and facilitate the growth of integrated education’ as it would be supportive of sustaining a strong school into the future. Approval for statutory nursery provision in our school would support parents in accessing integrated educational provision from the age of 3 to 19 years in the Magherafelt area i.e. moving to Sperrin Integrated College to where at least 62% of the school’s pupils transfer annually.”

The application added: “Nursery provision at Spires IPS would allow pupils to transition seamlessly from integrated nursery to primary education within the one setting and this would ensure that all educational opportunities on the school site could be fully utilised. It would also support families in the Magherafelt area who would prefer to have their children educated in integrated education settings from the ages of 3 to 19.”

Research found 38 children who arrived to P1 at Spires IPS had no pre-school experience (11.1% over the past 5 years) with only 83.3% of the P1 intake in 2017/18 receiving pre-school experience.

99% of the parents surveyed stated that they would have chosen nursery provision at Spires IPS had this been available and stated that their reasons for this as follows: Continuity of education within the one setting as well as having the opportunity of an integrated education from the ages of 3 to 19 in the Magherafelt area; Having a preference for their child to be educated within the integrated sector; the nearest integrated nursery pre-school provision is at Phoenix IPS and Maine IPS both at a significant distance from Spires IPS, with Phoenix IPS at 9.5 miles distance being well oversubscribed. 

Parents also supported the idea of an easier transition of pupils from nursery to primary school e.g. same site, integrated ethos, familiar routines and procedures, opportunities for visiting P1 classroom and staff.

In addition, a number of parents highlighted the difficulties of distance between other pre-school providers and Spires IPS as they are located at opposite sides of the town. In fact, a number of parents have indicated the great difficulties encountered in doing school pick-ups as well as access perhaps owing to the large proportion of parents who are travelling on foot.

Spires IPS believe, particularly with a significant level of children arriving to P1 with no preschool experience – and some of these issues could indeed be impacting factors – that the establishment of a nursery unit would bring significant educational benefits for pupils as part of a wider integrated school community. 

However, the development proposal was discussed by the EA’s Education Committee and there were a number of concerns highlighted by different bodies – namely the Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) and the Pre-Education Group (PEG) – a summary of the issues were as follows:

No due consideration to the potential impact of the sustainability of other neighbouring schools; No demonstrated need for the establishment of a 26 place part-time nursery unit; There is sufficient capacity within the area to cope with any additional demand and this should be filled prior to additional capacity being created; The proposal has the potential to displace existing quality pre-school education provision in the area and increase the potential for underage children to be enrolled at existing nursery settings; In the current financial climate and particularly given the serious challenges facing education in Northern Ireland at this time, there are concerns at the resource implications of the proposal.

The Controlled Schools’ Support Council (CSSC) also responded by stating: “The CSSC objects to the publication of development proposal 568 on the basis that there is no demonstrated area need for the establishment of a 26 place part-time nursery unit at Spires Integrated Primary School. This proposal has the potential to displace existing quality pre-school education provision in the area and increase the potential for underage children to be enrolled at existing nursery settings. The CSSC is concerned at the resource implications of the proposal, particularly given the serious financial challenges facing education in Northern Ireland at this time.”

PEG commented: “It is important the Education Authority and the PEG support the Department in fulfilling its statutory duty by striving to meet demonstrated parental demand in an area for pre-school education at grant-maintained and controlled integrated primary schools, as well as parental demand for Irish-medium pre-school education.”

In their conclusion the EA didn’t support the proposal put forward by Spires IPS.

A statement said: “EA notes the guidance provided by DE and notes the recommendations of PEG. In accordance with the comments received from the PEG Group, the Education Authority does not support Development Proposal No 568 on the basis that there is a single, consistent, substantial feeder to Spires IPS which clearly supports and facilitates Integrated Education in the area and presents no obstacle to the growth of the sector.”

PEG noted that despite arguments to the contrary in the case of change put forward by Spires IPS, that there is in fact one single, consistent, substantial feeder to the school in the form of Magherafelt Nursing School.

Reviewing the Spires IPS intake from Magherafelt Nursing School over the last five years, PEG concluded sufficient provision already exists to cater for demand.

In 2018/19 – 73.3% of Spires IPS P1 intake (22/30) attended Magherafelt Nursery School; 2017/18 –  76.6 % of P1 (23/30); 2016-17 - 86.6% of P1 (26/30); 2015-16 – 70.3 % of P1 (19/27); 2014-15 – 82.1% of P1 (23/28).

“PEG does not support the DP (Development Proposal) on the basis that there is a single, consistent, substantial feeder to Spires IPS which clearly supports and facilitates Integrated Education in the area and presents no obstacle to the growth of the sector. PEG also noted the potential for increased uptake of younger children into statutory nursery settings and the consequent increased cost on public funds.

“There is also the potential impact on existing cross-community provision in respect of the duty to promote, encourage and facilitate,” the PEG deduced from their findings.

Spires Integrated Primary School opened in September 1999 at 84 Moneymore Road, Magherafelt in temporary mobiles. This development was in response to the desire of parents and grandparents in the wider Magherafelt/
Castledawson area to be educated in an integrated setting.

Spires IPS opened with 58 children, across P1 to P4 and the enrolment increased annually with significant growth in the first few years. The school has an enrolment figure of 203 (P1 – P7) with 205 children enrolled for September 2018.

Despite the objections put forward by the bodies, the development proposal was still being put to decision by the Department of Education in accordance with the Education Authority’s Strategic Area Plan and Annual Action Plan 2018/19 and it is understood a decision will be made in the foreseeable future.

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