THERE are renewed calls for the Education Authority (EA) to find school places for pupils with special education needs (SEN) after it emerged that more than 800 children are still waiting for a place for next year.
The delay was described as "simply not good enough" by SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan, who said families have been "left in limbo, causing serious strain and anxiety".
Alliance MLA Kate Nicholl, who hosted parents of children with SEN at a cross-party meeting at Stormont on Monday, said the families "feel discriminated".
The shortfall of places is needed in both primary and post-primary schools across Northern Ireland.
While parents of pupils seeking a place in mainstream primaries and post-primaries have already been informed of what school their child will go to in September, there are many children still without a place.
It comes amid growing pressure on the education system with recent warnings from the EA that a "significant shortfall" in special school places this year was likely.
The most recent figures show over 800 children with SEN are still waiting on confirmation of a school or nursery place.
Mr McCrossan, the SDLP education spokesperson, said the situation was placing "huge strain on families and said they needed immediate clarity on the situation" from the EA.
“It’s deeply frustrating that families with SEN children are finding themselves in this situation year after year and nothing is being done to address it," he said.
"The problem is only getting worse, the demand for places is growing ever higher and parents are being put in a terrible position, left worrying until the last minute about when and where their child will be allocated a place.
"Some children have even had their school places withdrawn, with no communication or clarity from the Education Authority about the next steps, further compounding parents' distress.
"That's simply not good enough.
“Starting a new school can be a particularly challenging experience for children and young people with SEN and the best way to support them would be allocating them a place at the first opportunity, allowing both them and their parents time to prepare them for the change to their lives.
"Instead they are left in limbo, causing serious strain and anxiety for all involved."
He added that the EA "needs to do everything in their power to find places for these children and end this uncertainty for them and their families".
Ms Nicholl said it was "upsetting" to hear the experiences of some families impacted by the shortfall.
"The key thing is that they still do not know where their children are going, these children have complex needs and the fear is also that there is a potential regression," she said.
"The impact on these families is immense, they feel discriminated and I believe it is an equality issue.
"They have higher support needs, yet these are the children who are being disadvantaged by these cuts. I really feel for them."
Una Turbitt from the EA said "all children with statements are equally entitled to a place which is appropriate to meet their needs" adding they are "working to ensure all children will be placed appropriately as soon as possible and fully understands the importance of keeping parents informed of progress regarding their child’s school placement".