The announcement that the Department of Education will not proceed with proposed cuts to Youth Services and a range of Early Years programmes has been welcomed by Co Armagh groups that benefit from the funding.
The announcement means that cuts to projects such as the Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox will no longer be implemented.
In addition, the Department is not proceeding with the full scale of proposed cuts to Extended Schools.
Chrysalis Women’s Centre, which is based in Legahory, Craigavon, is one of the 187 early years settings in Northern Ireland that benefits from the Pathway Fund, which supports provision of early years education and learning services for children aged 0-4.
The centre had been campaigning for the continuation of the Pathway Fund, stating that cuts to the funding would result in the closure of the centre’s childcare provision.
Director Ruth McKeever told Armagh I that she is “delighted” that the funding is to continue.
She said: “We are delighted with the news that the Pathway Fund will continue. This will enable us to offer both children, parents and carers the support they need to better enhance their lives. On behalf of all the children we care for, we would like to thank all parties who campaigned to prevent the closure of the fund.
“We would also like to thank the public for their continued support. We hope that we will never again face closure of services that are vital to the lives of those who are the most vulnerable in society.”
Epworth Playgroup, based in Portadown, was among the other benefiting organisations that welcomed the news.
In a post on social media, they said: “We would like to take the opportunity to thank all off our parents and indeed everyone who took the time to sign the #savethepathwayfundpetition. Also a massive thank-you to our local councillors and MPs for supporting our campaign.
“This funding has been invaluable to our setting over the years and has allowed us to provide a high quality service to the children and families who attend the playgroup.”
The Education budget for 2023/24 has been cut by £66.4million (2.5%) compared to last year, despite rising costs and increasing demands for services, resulting in an estimated funding gap of around £382million.
Education Permanent Secretary, Dr Mark Browne, said: “The Department’s vision for all children is that they will be happy, learning and succeeding. Delivering on this is particularly challenging in the current budgetary context, especially in terms of addressing the needs of our most disadvantaged children and young people.
“We know that early intervention, especially for our most vulnerable, is critical for development, improving learning outcomes and supporting longer term societal benefits.
“Accordingly, having carefully considered all of the principles in the Secretary of State’s decision making guidance, I am not cutting funding to Youth Services and a range of Early Years programmes including the Pathway Fund, Sure Start, Bright Start and Toybox. In addition I am not proceeding with the full scale of proposed cuts to Extended Schools.”