It is demonstrably clear that our education system is under immense pressure, particularly when it comes to school placements for children with special educational needs (SEN).
This requires urgent attention, and a new plan for children with SEN in education is needed.
Year on year, the number of our young people identified as having SEN continues to rise, yet we do not see the same increase in suitable school places for these children. And we also know there is a lack of specialist staff to support them.
Mainstream schools play an important role in educating children and young people with SEN, and these schools need and deserve additional resources. Despite this, we must see increased capacity for special schools to deliver for our young people.
More suitable places should be made available, and the Department of Education’s capital builds programme must prioritise special schools moving forward.
The situation in recent years faced by many families waiting anxiously for a school place right up to the start of school term, and sometimes beyond it, is unacceptable and must be tackled.
The current way of allocating school places is not working for families of children with SEN and this needs changed. That’s why I am calling on the education minister to explore a ‘SEN first’ strategy, whereby children with SEN form part of a school’s planned enrolment numbers and would ensure they are prioritised.
By doing this we could provide assurance for parents, clarity for schools and would ensure the proper support required for children with SEN is in place from the beginning of term.
The Education Authority must also improve their communication with parents and schools regarding SEN school placements to ensure families are kept up-to-date and informed.
There are significant challenges ahead, and it’s vital the education department and Education Authority work together to ensure children with SEN are placed into schools suitably and on time.
By working together, we can help to build a brighter, better and stronger future for all our young people, giving them the best opportunity to flourish in life.