Schrader Electronics Invests £29 Million PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch has welcomed the Enterprise Minister Arlene Foster’s announcement to invest £29million into the company. Schrader Electronics is a global market leader in the design, development and manufacture of remote tyre pressure monitoring systems for the automotive sector. Based in Antrim and Carrickfergus, the firm is part of the automotive and industrial division of Tomkins. Invest Northern Ireland offered Schrader over £5million, part funded by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF), towards these investment projects.

Of the total assistance offered by Invest NI, £1.9 million will support the expansion of Schrader’s production facilities.  David Hilditch said “During a time of particularly low employment this is good news for Carrickfergus and for Antrim, ultimately this will create 130 new high quality jobs and will help the company to target the European and Asian markets”.





Urging For Permission to Close Roads PDF Print E-mail

Your local DUP representative has questioned the Minister for Regional Development to outline the progress on the Roads Service's proposed legislation allowing local authorities to close roads in their area for special events.

Connor Murphy responded "My Department’s Roads Service has advised that the primary legislation to enable district councils to close roads for special events is in place. A commencement order, which will bring the relevant provisions into operation, is currently being prepared. Roads Service is also preparing guidance for use by councils and promoters, when planning and organising events. It is anticipated that both the commencement order will be made and guidance prepared by June 2011".

David Hildtch has welcomed this announcement "From a health and safety point of view this is  good news for local authorities.  In my own constituency there are a few running races which we cannot get the roads closed for,  each year we discuss the matter with Roads Service and the PSNI, but currently none of these bodies seem to have any authority to close the roads, for athletes competing in road races. Giving councils the authority to close roads for special events that take place in their local areas will no doubt give the organisers peace of mind and make for a safer day for both drivers and competitors alike, I look forward to seeing the guidance come before councils and promoters."      




Lights for the Black Arch PDF Print E-mail

David Hilditch has questioned the Minister for Regional Development to outline the progress on the installation of replacement lighting beside the Black Arch on the Coast Road, Drainsbay.

Connor Murphy responded "My Department’s Roads Service has advised that a meeting with members of Larne Borough Council is likely to take place during week commencing 28 February 2011, to determine if this matter can be progressed".

David Hilditch has been in touch with Larne Borough Council and they have insured him they will keep him informed of any progress with the matter.  

Where is the Community Spirit PDF Print E-mail 




Hilditch Stresses The Need for an Early Years Development Strategy PDF Print E-mail

 Mr Hilditch: I welcome and support the motion, and I concur with many of the comments made by the Members who spoke previously.

We are all aware that early years and nursery education begin long before children reach school age. Ability gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged pupils open up early in the first few years of life. If we do not have a strategy and resources to address that, by the time our children reach primary school age, we might have already set a pattern that allows for disadvantage and poor outcomes, which we are already struggling to address. We do not have the preschool education provision that is needed in Northern Ireland. We need good and affordable childcare that has an educational outcome. Given the rise in the birth rate, there has been an unprecedented shortage of around 1,200 preschool places.

Although this is a holistic debate, I wish to take a quick look at the nursery situation, which I am sure is of concern to most Members. Earlier in the year, several parents contacted me at my constituency office because their children had been unable to secure nursery school placements in their area due to the criteria set at board level. For many families, the criteria are extremely unfair, and it has been suggested that some parents were disadvantaged or penalised because they were not on relevant benefits. In fact, some children in Carrickfergus in my constituency were refused places at preschool or nursery units that there were practically next door to their homes. Their parents were, therefore, told to contact other outlets in Carnlough and Ballycastle, which seems quite ridiculous.

1.00 pm

I understand that the Minister has released £1·3 million for voluntary and private preschool places. That is welcome news. There is no doubt that it will help to meet the shortage — perhaps totally so, in some cases — and to ensure that, where possible, every child will be placed for the forthcoming school year. However, like the National Association of Head Teachers, I am concerned that the funding does not cover the state sector as such and will not include the provision of any new places in nursery schools and units.

It is well known that we need to turn our attention to addressing the literacy and numeracy problems that exist in primary schools throughout Northern Ireland. That matter could be addressed before school, and it is an area that cannot continue to be underfunded. We recognise that each child develops at his or her own pace. We know that good quality practitioners who are committed to early years are a vital component. We know that there is a need for a curriculum that is developmentally appropriate for the child. We know the crucial role that parents play, and we should be there to give them the support that they need.

Children who attend preschool are benefitted in so many ways. The nursery experience, in particular, benefits social development in all children. Disadvantaged children gain so much more when they are in a mixture of children from different social backgrounds. Children with little or no preschool experience show poorer connectivity and social behavioural outcomes, as other Members indicated, at entry to school and at year one than those who attended preschool.

If high-quality preschool education provision has such a positive effect on children’s intellectual and social development, why is every child not entitled to a funded nursery school place? I urge the Minister to provide that basic opportunity for every child. It is totally unacceptable and unfair that children do not get the same funding to help them to start their educational lives. That should form the basis of some parts of the strategy. If we do not provide funded nursery places for all children, we will probably undermine the benefits of taxpayer investments in the latter stages of the formal school system.

We appreciate the success in increasing the supply of preschool education over 11 years, and it is well noted that the uptake has increased from 44% to 90%. However, there are geographical gaps in supply and demand. Parental choice contributes to the amount of places available, and there are some nurseries to which parents simply do not wish to send their children. Indeed, parental choice has led to some popular state nurseries being oversubscribed by as many as 30 places. Therefore, why does the Minister not pour some of the money that was alluded to earlier into accommodating that sector? Those are issues that hinder our children’s development, and they need to be addressed.

Every child has the right to develop through educational and social activity and to learn through play in the preschool environment so that they can progress into primary 1. I appeal to the Minister for her and her Department, and other Departments as an interdepartmental agency, to ensure that every child is well equipped to meet the needs of primary school foundation stage and years one and two by the time that they leave preschool.

I have concerns that the view held by the Minister that a child’s formal education should not begin until age six will compound the problems that we have in educational attainment. The reality is that many children will not be able to read or write when they go into P3 and that the gap between children who get parental help and support at home and those who do not will widen rather than narrow. It will also create huge difficulties for P3 teachers who have to work with classes that have children who are advanced in their reading and writing and those who are only starting to learn formally.

It has been found that there are significant differences between preschool settings and their impact on children. Statutory nursery schools and classes had the best outcomes, with good outcomes also identified for playgroups. That is not to say that other types of preschool did not produce benefits; they did, but they did not offer the same long-lasting educational assistance. Those findings were supported by the chief inspector’s annual report in Northern Ireland, which found that the highest percentage of good to outstanding practice in early years provision was located in those statutory nursery schools that were inspected.

Almost all Members agree that the most important years of a child’s learning experience are in the early years between nought and six. The fact that the Department has failed to produce anything is, therefore, unacceptable for all Members who have called for an emphasis on that strategy for some time.

We have the lowest school starting age in Europe. It has been suggested that many of our children are not ready to enter into the formal reception class and that it causes some children much stress. We have also been advised that, in relation to the compulsory school starting age, an earlier start at preschool has been linked to better intellectual development and improved independence, concentration and sociability for children. Thus, duration of attendance at preschool — the time between entrance to preschool and the start of school — is considered to be one of the most important times in preparing a child for school.

We were to have an early years strategy from the Department, but it has not yet arrived. We were told that it would be presented through the Minister at the end of the year, but we are still waiting for it, which is disappointing, to say the least. The message is simple: the Minister cannot delay the early years strategy. An evaluation of a school curriculum that is going to settle children into school, make them more enthusiastic about the learning process and increase their social development skills is needed immediately

I urge the Minister to develop a cross-departmental and holistic early years strategy and plan as soon as possible, and I look forward to her bringing the proposal before the House.



Minister of Education concluded: “My primary concern will be to ensure that the children at whom the strategy is targeted receive the best possible services from the Department of Education. I know that we are in negotiations on securing further resources in relation to the overall amount of money in the Budget. If we are to seriously make a difference in the early years, I ask that all parties support the education and, indeed, health budgets for early years. I thank all Members for their contributions”.



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