Education news

North facing special education ‘timebomb', union warns

Avril Hall Callaghan, UTU general secretary

NORTHERN Ireland could be facing a `time bomb' in its special educational needs sector unless adequate provision is made for our most vulnerable children.

Avril Hall Callaghan, General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union (UTU), was speaking following revelations that 80 per cent of mainstream schools in England said they did not have sufficient support to cater for their pupils with special educational needs.

"The whole area of special needs must be addressed and Northern Ireland is obviously not alone in the challenges it faces. There is a potential time bomb here and as the biggest locally-based teaching union here we see first-hand the escalating issues facing our members, almost daily," she said.

"One Co Down teacher, for instance, has had to take over physio exercises with a child whose classroom assistant had to be made redundant because of budget restraints. The teacher can't leave the other 29 children in the class to do these exercises with the child so the result is that the whole class has to take time out of their learning three times a day and join in the routine.

"Needless to say, the novelty quickly wore off for the other children and this isn't a good situation either for the child concerned as it singles them out and has the opposite effect intended by the whole concept of inclusivity."

Ms Hall Callaghan said she was also increasingly anxious about the challenges facing teachers in the future given the growing number of children with special educational needs moving from the SEN sector to mainstream schools.

The Department of Education's inclusion policy, she said, was "all very well on paper" and was sold to our profession on the basis that it would be adequately funded so the children's needs would be met.

"However, to date this has not been the case," she said.

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