Seeley calls for flexibility on special needs schools

Catherine Seeley MLA at the Education Committee in Stormont
Catherine Seeley MLA at the Education Committee in Stormont

Local MLA Catherine Seeley has called for more flexibility from the Education Authority to help thwart the current ‘crisis’ in pre-school places at Special Schools.

The Upper Bann MLA said solutions exist and stressed that while she welcomed news that the EA are provision of places would be extended to around nine schools including Ceara in Lurgan, she remained concerned at the ‘lack of flexibility and adaptability’.

She was concerned that though there was a 20 per cent increase in the need for places this issue has only been brought to the Education Committee now.

“The idea that some children will be given 2.5 hours is not enough time and it doesn’t meet the needs of children with special needs who are some of the most vulnerable in our society,” said the Sinn Fein MLA.

She added solutions had been offered but appear to have been ignored. “I am calling on the Education Authority to immediately engage with special school principals.”

The local Education Authority said it is currently undertaking a review of a previous decision to move progressively towards consistent early years’ provision in special schools on a part time basis from September 2016.

EA Chairperson, Sharon O’Connor apologised to parents for the handling of the issue to date and confirmed that no new long-term arrangements would be put in place until September 2017 at the earliest.

Details were also provided about interim arrangements that would be put in place in advance of the completion of the review to deal with an estimated 20% increase in demand for places in September 2016. This means that some schools will move to a dual day model of early years’ provision to enable them to increase the number of places they can offer in 2016.

She promised a full consultation involving school principals, parents, early years’ practitioners and other relevant stakeholders. “We estimate that 65 additional children will require a place compared with 2015.”