Northern Ireland

Fears nurseries in special schools could close a 'disgrace,' says Co Tyrone principal

There are fears some nurseries in special schools in Northern Ireland could close
There are fears some nurseries in special schools in Northern Ireland could close

FEARS that some nurseries in special schools in Northern Ireland could be closed has been branded a "disgrace" by a Co Tyrone head teacher.

Jonathan Gray, principal of Arvalee School in Omagh, said the reported move by the Education Authority (EA) will mean that young children and their families will be "dreadfully let down".

"To deny our early learners, our vulnerable learners, the children needing additional support and learning experiences, access to therapies, specialist resources and, most of all, access to teachers and classroom assistants clued into their needs, is unbelievable," he said.

It comes after reports that the EA is considering closing a number of nurseries in special schools as it has to increase the number of Primary One pupils some schools can take.

It remains unclear how many schools could be impacted, but it is understood that some in the Belfast area are most likely to be affected.

Mr Gray hit out at the possible loss of nursery provision and said "the children that my colleagues and I educate deserve the best possible start in school".

"This is a disgrace, " he said.

"Families that just need their child supported and now, two weeks before the end of year, they hear they have lost their place; it is an unbelievable situation.

"Weeks have gone by, and the only solution found for the children, our most vulnerable, without a place in school is to deny other vulnerable children.

"We, as the school leaders union, can’t fathom it. We feel for all involved – the children have been systematically failed."

He added: "Where is Stormont? Where is the department?

"These are the people whose job it is to protect the most vulnerable in society.

"As school leaders, our hearts are with the children and their families that have been so dreadfully let down.”

Liam McGuckin, president of the NAHT NI teaching union, said school leaders they represent are "wholly disgusted at the treatment of our vulnerable children".

Liam McGuckin, president of NAHT NI
Liam McGuckin, president of NAHT NI

"Indeed, the professional views of school leaders have not even been sought in this very significant and life-defining decision," he said.

"NAHT will seeking answers as to how the system could allow hundreds of children with severe learning difficulties to arrive at school age with absolutely no planned provision whatsoever.

"With this in mind, NAHT will take this apparent failure to the NI Public Services Ombudsman and the NI Commissioner for Children and Young People."

The EA told the BBC that there has been a significant increase of pupils with special educational needs requiring a place in special schools and specialist classes in mainstream schools, particularly in primary one and pre-school.

"The EA is currently exploring all options to ensure that children of statutory school age have a school placement and that pre-school children whose parents wish them to attend a pre-school setting have a suitable school place where they are happy, learning and succeeding," it said.