Northern Ireland

Pressure on special needs sector ‘frankly indescribable’

A teaching union in Northern Ireland has said funding pressures were stopping over 100 schools creating new specialist classes for children with special educational needs

The majority of school staff believe there are not enough resources for children with special educational needs and disabilities, a survey suggests
(Danny Lawson/PA)

PRESSURES on the special needs sector in Northern Ireland have become “frankly indescribable,” a teaching union has said.

Jacquie White from the Ulster Teachers’ Union made the comments as more than 100 schools said they wouldn’t create new specialist classes for children with special educational needs (SEN) due to fears around funding or resources.

“The situation for our children with SEN has become, quite frankly, indescribable. We are drowning in action plans and reviews and yet a lack of apparent planning persists,” she said.

“We have grave concerns about the placement of growing numbers of children in SPiMS (Specialist Provision in Mainstream Schools).

“We have raised questions, not about overall strategy and high-level proclamations, but rather about how these children will progress through our system, where do they go next year, or at the next Key Stage, how do they see themselves progressing and growing?”

She said that providing SEN services was about more than just getting pupils a school place, but ensuring they had a pathway and support that helped them fulfil their potential.

Commending staff working in the sector, she said they must be properly valued with the proper resources to do their job.

“They must be given the proper training, the proper resources and the time and space to ensure that the scaffolding is all in place,” she said.

Jacquie White from the Ulster Teachers’ Union
Jacquie White from the Ulster Teachers’ Union

“We are hearing from teachers that training is not there for them in their setting, that if it is there they have no time to make use of it.

“It seems teachers are not viewed as people by those in authority; we are commodities within the system.”

She said teachers dealing with children with behavioural issues “are not seen as people who can be seriously hurt,” or employees with the right to work in an environment free from the threat of physical violence.

“Rather, again, they are a resource who have to keep going, unsupported, whatever the outcome.

“This is just not good enough. Not anywhere near good enough.”

The Department of Education has been contacted for a response.

Earlier this week, the Education Minister Paul Givan told the Assembly that the school system was struggling to match the demand for places for SEN children, stating an extra 1,000 places needed to be found by September.

He added that over the last three academic years, the Education Authority (EA) had created an extra 140 places for special schools and 203 new SPIMs, but the position for September was “extremely challenging”.

Another suggestion was to work more closely with the Department of Health to identify children with special needs at an earlier age.

Paul Givan said he believes his party can hold the Lagan Valley seat
Education Minister Paul Givan has said over 1,000 extra special educational needs places need found by September