Education news

`Unacceptable' that almost 300 SEN children yet to be placed in schools

Education Minister Peter Weir

DELAYS in placing vulnerable children in schools must be tackled "as quickly as possible", the education minister has urged.

Peter Weir said it was unacceptable that any child would be left without a place.

Almost 300 children with statements of special educational need (SEN) still do not know what school they will attend in September due to massive demand.

There is major pressure in several areas including Belfast and Newry.

More than half of those unplaced are seeking to attend a special school.

The Education Authority (EA) this week told the assembly education committee it was dealing with it as a matter of urgency.

Up to this week, 2,206 statemented children have been placed by the EA in either special or mainstream schools or specialist learning units for the 2020/21 academic year.

There remain 285 children unplaced, with 156 looking for a special school spot.

The EA is already under fire over its handling of SEN.

Statements that detail the additional help young people need should be issued within 26 weeks. An EA audit found that hundreds of children waited considerably longer, some up to two years.

Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle, who is chairman of the assembly education committee, said the minister must take action.

"As of today there are 600 children in Northern Ireland waiting longer than the statutory limit of six months for a statement of special educational need," Mr Lyttle said.

"There are 285 children with statements who do not yet have a school place for September 2020 - 156 of those children are without a place in a special school.

"These are some of the most vulnerable children in our community. The children, their families, the schools and this assembly demand to know what specific action the education minister has taken to arrest the dysfunctionality of special educational needs statementing and area planning that is failing children."

Mr Weir told the ad-hoc committee on the Covid-19 response that the figures were unacceptable.

"The inquiry that was done into the Education Authority produced a range of recommendations, which shows there was a level of dysfunctionality in relation to special educational needs," Mr Weir said.

"Those are being implemented. I think there has been a level of delay because of the Covid situation.

"My officials have been meeting with the Education Authority to discuss the issue. We expect to see progress on that and indeed for each individual family it creates an enormous level and burden of uncertainty, so this is something that needs to be tackled as quickly as possible."

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