Published Tuesday, 04 December 2012
Only those of pre-school age will be eligible for nursery places. (© Getty)
John O'Dowd made the announcement on Tuesday as part of a review of early years education.
Previously, two-year-olds were enrolled alongside those almost four years old, but the Minister said the pre-school education programme should be focused on those in their pre-school year only.
Under the 'Learning to Learn' framework, Mr O'Dowd said he would retain a power to enable two-year-olds to be able to access services within schools and nursery schools outside the programme.
He will also introduce legislation to prevent schools from establishing new or maintaining existing reception classes.
Those born in July or August will no longer get priority for pre-school as the department has said that had disadvantaged younger children entitled to a place.
The Foundation Stage of the revised curriculum will be extended to include a non-compulsory pre-school year as well as the first two years of primary school.
Mr O'Dowd added: "Furthermore, a recurring issue has been around the enrolment numbers for nursery schools and nursery units, and staff ratios. I plan to introduce some flexibility in overall enrolment numbers up to a maximum class size of 30 in certain circumstances.
"I am also going to engage directly with nursery teachers and principals around the development of pilots to test the optimum staff-to-pupil ratios for nursery schools and units."
Today's announcement will ensure that the improvements in early years education are consolidated and that we make every effort to raise standards and narrow the performance gap as early as possible .
Education Minister John O'Dowd
An additional £1.25m was allocated to private and voluntary pre-school providers for last year. This equates to an additional payment of £150 per place.
The preference given to families receiving benefits will be re-assessed and Mr O'Dowd has said he would review and broaden the definition of social disadvantage.
The Chief Executive of Early Years - the organisation for young children today welcomed the Minister's statement.
Siobhan Fitzpatrick CBE said: "We look forward to working closely with the Minister, Department officials and others in the statutory, voluntary and independent sectors to deliver on the Minister's commitments.
"We particularly welcome the commitment to looking at extending the two-year-old programme, the end of reception and the development of new models of cluster support and training. We also welcome investment in effective leadership and governance in the sector.
"We welcome the statement that early years is now a critical part of the education system, we welcome the commitment to share learning with others and to learn from elsewhere. The opportunity now exists to learn from the new EU Quality Framework and from the experiences in OECD countries."
Ulster Unionist Education spokesperson, Danny Kinahan MLA said it was vital to see the details of the strategy soon.
He said: "I and my Party colleagues have continually stated that the Early Years Strategy cannot be used to push more responsibility onto parents.
"Unfortunately today's developments have done little to reassure us that the Department are prepared to listen. I believe that parental choice is key in the future of our education system. In many cases, parents know what is best for their children and this needs to be recognised within any strategy.
"It is up to the Department of Education to come up with a set of proposals which are fit for purpose."
The Department will conduct a focused consultation on the proposals in the early years strategy until the end of January.