Page last updated at 11:58 GMT, Wednesday, 16 May 2012 12:58 UK

Education Committee

The chairman of the education committee described the early years strategy as "an absolute fiasco" after more than 90% of respondents to a consultation exercise came out against its proposals, on 16 May 2012.

Mervyn Storey of the DUP said he struggled when trying to understand the early years setting, describing it as "complex and diverse".

He was responding to evidence from education department official John McGrath who said the responses to the strategy were "overwhelmingly negative".

"Over 90% of respondents do not agree with the visions, issues and actions under the four objectives," Mr McGrath said.

The official explained that there were requests for more clarity, questions over who would be responsible for leading and delivering it and where resources would come from.

Mr Storey said the strategy clearly did not have the public's support.

"The department continues to pour money into pre-school provision," he said.

He claimed this was done without "having any clear, coherent policy".

"There is a huge issue of disparity around provision - in some places it's poor and some places you can get it if you travel 50 miles."

His DUP party colleague, Jonathan Craig, described the responses as "alarming".

"There is growing evidence out there from academics and experience right across the board, that if we're ever to tackle the under-achievement issue in our schools, it is the early years strategy strategy which will fundamentally turn that around," he said.

Education Minister John O'Dowd also appeared before the committee to brief members on legislation to change how special education needs services were allocated.

The Special Educational Needs (SEN) Review began two-and-a-half years ago.

Members, including chairman, Mervyn Storey, said they were content with how the legislation was being planned, consulted on and changed in response to criticism.

The education minister said one in five children in Northern Ireland had special educational needs and the changes would "remove bureaucracy and stop feeding the machine and making sure SEN are delivered as quickly as possible".

He claimed parents could find the current system "very confusing".

Mr Storey expressed concern with special schools not having enrolment numbers which meant they were "bulging at the seams".

"If the child is deemed to require a special school, they just keep piling them in - this wouldn't be the right phrase - but there is major concern that special schools just continue to take these children and they are being stretched," he said.

Education committee membership

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