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Education news

Review could close and merge special schools

Park School on Ravenhill Road could be merged with two other schools

A NEW network of special schools, which could see mergers and closures, is being planned to meet all children's diverse needs.

The Education Authority (EA) is planning to streamline its special school offer in Belfast.

The proposals, which would need ministerial approval, could see some well-known schools shut.

There has already been a reduction in special schools across the north from 47 in 2003 to 39, although enrolments have risen in the same period.

One in every four pupils attends a school in Belfast City Council's area.

It is understood the EA wants to create three larger special schools in the city within two years.

Fleming Fulton School, which has been in the formal intervention process for four years since it was criticised by inspectors, could close. It educates young people with physical disabilities and would be brought together with Glenveagh Special School, which educates children with severe learning difficulties.

Harberton School for pupils with moderate learning difficulties and the nearby Oakwood, which caters for those with severe difficulties, would also amalgamate.

In east Belfast, three schools would be merged into one - Park, Mitchell House and Greenwood. St Gerard's in west Belfast, Clarawood in the east of the city and Cedar Lodge in north Belfast would remain open.

All schools would be expected to admit pupils from 3-19 with a range of disabilities and children would go to the school closest to them, to reduce transport time and costs. Analysis by the EA revealed that in 2014, just 201 of 1,306 pupils in Belfast went to their nearest school - 15.4 per cent compared to the Northern Ireland average of 46 per cent.

The proposals are due to go out to formal consultation later this year.

An EA spokeswoman said a report in March 2015 set out recommendations to transform the special schools estate. This included the creation of a network of special schools that could provide for the diverse needs of children from 3-19 years old, she said.

"EA's 2017/18 Annual Area Action plan is related to the key recommendations arising from the 2015 report. It sets out plans to transform special school provision to provide a common structure so that all children and young people who attend a special school in Northern Ireland are able to do so from the age of 3-19 years old in their closest special school. In this context the diverse needs of children with SEN will be met," she added.

"The detail of these proposals has now been clarified. EA has been engaging with special school principals on these proposals as part of the area planning pre-consultation phase. Further engagement is planned with staff and parents as well as teaching and non teaching unions over the next few weeks.

"The next step will be to publish a set of detailed development proposals for full public consultation."

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