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Mainstream teachers ‘simply aren't equipped' for special needs pupils, says union leader

Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union

TEACHERS in mainstream schools "simply aren't equipped" to give children with special educational needs what they require, a union leader has claimed.

Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union, said the SEN (special educational needs) sector faced an uncertain future.

She said education minister Peter Weir needed to address a crisis now, or it would "become a nonsense to claim that our school system gives every child an equal opportunity".

Ms Hall Callaghan said a growing number of children with increasingly complex needs were moving from special school to mainstream settings.

Teachers and classrooms, she said, "simply aren't equipped to give these children what they need".

"Nor are they resourced to give the other children what they need in view of this shift in the school population," she added.

"For instance, just having the space to accommodate a child with behavioural issues who has become overwhelmed can be problematic. It can take the best part of an hour for that child to become calm again and not all schools have a `chill out' room or the staff to ensure that the child is supervised during that time."

She added that teachers were too often left vulnerable and isolated in the front line without the training or back-up to cope with children who, until they moved into the mainstream sector, were in units with specially trained staff.

She called for a joined-up approach "so that the tools used by teachers in school to help these children deal with their challenges are reflected at home too, so parental involvement in crucial - as it is in the educational experience of every single child".

"The general public, I believe, is increasingly aware of the challenges facing teachers managing the behavioural challenges of some children - but they often don't realise the frightening reality of these situations when the children actually need physical restraint for their own safety and that of fellow pupils and teachers," she said.

"We need even greater awareness of the sheer reality that teachers can face when teaching children with such complex needs.

"As a growing number of SEN children enter mainstream schools what will happen if a classroom assistant isn't properly trained or even willing to deal with pupils with anger issues? These issues are only going to mushroom as we head into a new term and especially given the changes coming within the SEN sector. It is therefore imperative that the minister consults with all stakeholders."

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