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Success for pupils with special educational needs

28 Nov 2016

Following a legal challenge by Michael Flanigan Solicitors the Department of Education make a U-turn on the decision not to fund nurture units to support children with special educational needs in Irish-medium primary school

Joanne McGurk, solicitor, with a background in Education Law writes about the outcome of a recent judicial review challenge and the law relating to Special Educational Needs

Two Irish-medium primary schools in Belfast had been advised in June 2016, that the plans for nurture groups in their schools would not go ahead, as a result of a lack of funding for the provision, however the Department have now reversed this decision.

Nurture units are set up in 30 schools in Northern Ireland and are small classes of 8 to 10 children to provide for children with social, emotional or behavioural difficulties. They are staffed by one specialist teacher and one specialist classroom assistant and the benefits have been recognised by educationalists, however, there are currently no nurture units in Irish-medium schools.

On 22nd July 2016, the Department of Education reversed the decision not to fund special educational needs support, by the provision of nurture units in 2 Irish-medium primary schools, Scoil An Droichid and Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin.

In relation to Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin, this was following correspondence with the department in which we challenged the legality of the minister’s decision. We are delighted, on behalf of our client and the other children at Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin that will benefit from the nurture group, that the Department has now reversed its decision.

The Department of Education indicated that the decision not to fund the nurture units, was based on the lack of resources and that the decision would be reversed and the nurture groups could be set up, as additional money had been allocated to support the project.

This is a positive outcome for provision of support for children with special educational needs and for Irish-medium education, however the difficulties around the lack of resources available continue to be faced by many children with special educational needs.

The Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Order 2005 require schools to meet the needs of those children with special educational needs. Where the schools do not have the resources to do so, the support can be made by the Education Authority, through a statement of special educational needs. This can include the provision of a classroom assistant, specialist equipment such as computer or laptops or specialist teaching. Unfortunately limited resources can result in children not receiving the support they need or lengthy delays in children accessing the resources they need.

The statutory framework is a complex system that parents and carers have to navigate on behalf of their children and although it is hoped that the introduction of new legislation, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill that is currently being consulted on will assist, the difficulties around the issue of resources, look set to continue.

‘I am delighted with this positive outcome for our client who will benefit from this specialist placement’. Joanne McGurk, Solicitor.

If you would like any legal advice on the issues raised in this article, contact Joanne McGurk at Michael Flanigan Solicitors 207 Falls Rd, Belfast BT12 6FB 028 90 233309.