Our children’s safety was ignored

Education officials accused of putting kids at risk

By Julie Waters

EDUCATION bosses have been accused of ‘ignoring children’s safety’  after a Crawfordsburn preschool building was ordered to close due to health and safety concerns.

The shock closure announcement of Bright Sparks nursery’s building came just one day after Education Minister Paul Givan visited the popular preschool.

The closure decision came after a survey of the preschool’s modular building, believed to be 40 years old, identified health and safety issues including ‘water ingress, wiring and fire safety risks’.

Despite the closure, preschool life for the 20 pupils is continuing as normal, as the nursery has transferred to temporary accommodation at neighbouring Crawfordsburn Primary School.

Philip Johnston, chair of the Bright Sparks management committee, has levelled harsh criticism at ‘those in power’ who ‘chose to ignore’ their concerns raised consistently over recent years that the building was no longer fit for purpose.

He said the building is owned by the Education Authority (EA), which has maintained it over recent years; however the survey, requested by the EA, stated that £97,000 was needed to repair and bring the building up to the required standard. 

Mr Johnston also criticised the EA for taking nearly a year to share the findings of the survey with them after it was carried out in June 2023.

The report findings were finally shared with the committee on Tuesday, April 30 this year, and the building was closed after an emergency meeting of the Early Years Panel in the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust. The Trust revoked its registration of the building as a preschool setting.

“We have continually sought to resolve these issues over recent years, highlighting our concerns that the structure was no longer fit for purpose, but those in authority chose to ignore us until it was too late,” said Mrs Johnston.

Mr Johnston said he had discussed their desire for a replacement building with the Minister Givan during his recent visit and ‘how for many years we have tried to deliver on this without much help from those in power’.

He hit out at the lack of support from the education bodies. “Despite being consistently successful as a setting and regularly praised for our standards by inspecting authorities, we are being failed by those in charge who have chosen to ignore the significant safety issues we are now made aware of, 10 months after they were  identified.

“I can’t begin to fathom how people have chosen to ignore areas pertaining to the safety of our children. They ought to be ashamed for failing in their duties and it is left to our staff and volunteers to resolve these failings.”

Mr Johnston asked ‘those in power’ to explain to the children and their families ‘why you have let things reach this stage?’ He said: “Why have you ignored our pleas around the building you own?“Why have you not maintained the building you own and allowed safety risks of this level to arise?

“Why are you forcing the closure of a successful preschool building leaving us essentially homeless overnight and looking for suitable locations to continue without offering us more support given we are delivering education to children you fund?”

Mr Johnston appealed to anyone in the community ‘who can help us at this time to come forward’ saying: “I promise those children, staff and families that I and our management committee will do everything we can to resolve this matter and return us to our primary focus, educating children for a positive future as quickly as is possible.”

The preschool’s management committee has sought to reassure families of pupils set to begin their educational journey in  September’s new academic year that Bright Sparks will continue to provide preschool provision in the area.