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Special needs education: More than 30 children in NI without places

A child sitting in a classroom making a posterImage copyright Reuters Image caption Education Minister Peter Weir has said all children should return to school in September

Thirty-three children with a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) are still without a September school place.

That is according to the Education Authority (EA) who said it was continuing to work with families.

The EA has placed the majority of 285 children with SEN in a school – that’s the figure BBC News NI revealed was without a school place in June.

The mother of one eight-year-old told BBC News NI there was “no excuse” for the situation.

Education Minister Peter Weir has said all pupils should return to school full-time in September.

But that is not possible for Colette Stewart’s son Harry, as he is still to be placed in a special school in Belfast.

‘All consuming’

Harry has a chromosome disorder, is autistic and also non-verbal, and Colette said he needed the specialist support that school provided.

Image copyright Colette Stewart Image caption Colette Stewart said not having a school place for her son had affected the family’s mental health

“We still haven’t started the transition process which is so important for a child like Harry,” she said.

“We would like to have visited a school with Harry by now – but we have no uniform, no picture of his school, and we can’t give him an idea of what it will be like.movierulz2

“We have nothing.

“I know the EA are working hard to clear up a legacy of bad practice for children with SEN, but Harry not having a place has impacted on us as a family.

“I’ve been making phone calls, writing emails – it has become all-consuming.

“It has affected our mental health and well-being, and has ruined our summer.”

She described the situation as “a mess”.

“I don’t know why it has been so hard to find a place for Harry,” she said.

‘So stressful’

In July, the chair of Stormont’s education committee, Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, revealed that about 600 children in Northern Ireland were waiting longer than the statutory limit of six months for a statement of SEN.

That is the situation for another child with special educational needs who is also non-verbal and has also failed to get a Primary One place in a special school.

“The whole process has been so stressful,” her mother told BBC News NI.

“Any parent of a child with special educational needs has had a lot to deal with during Covid as they’ve been forgotten.

“In order to get a school place for her it has been a constant fight, but that didn’t make the process any faster.

“We still don’t have a formal offer of a place, and we still have huge concerns.

“There are no excuses for how bad this has all been.

“You have anxiety as the parent of a child with SEN anyway but this just amplifies that.”

‘Focus on improvements’

In March, the EA apologised for numerous failings in providing support for children with special educational needs after a damning internal review.

A spokesperson for the Education Authority (EA) said they were delivering a number of improvements for children with SEN as a result of that review.

Image copyright Reuters Image caption In June, 285 children with SEN were still awaiting school places

“Securing appropriate placements which best meet the individual needs of each child is one of a number of SEN improvements we have committed to delivering in 2020,” a spokesperson said.

“In June of this year, 285 children with a statement of special educational needs were awaiting confirmation of a school place.

“As of this week there are 33 children who are currently having their placement finalised or confirmed, and we are continuing to work directly with families and schools to ensure each and every child will have a suitable place agreed over the coming days.

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