Every child in Northern Ireland has the right to receive a high quality education that develops their personality, talents and abilities to the full. The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) wants to see inequalities in education being addressed and all children succeeding in education and developing to their maximum potential.
Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) have specific needs which must be met, and it is vital we continually work together in order to realise their right to an effective and high quality education.
The recent announcement of the Education Authority’s (EA) proposals to reconfigure the special schools estate in Belfast is an area the Commissioner is monitoring very closely, to ensure that any changes secure the very best outcomes for our children.
The Commissioner and her staff have already met with EA officials on this issue as part of a series of meetings to discuss the EA’s plans, and to receive assurances that any areas of concern for children with SEN, their parents and teachers, are being considered and addressed at the earliest possible stage.
Proposals are at a pre-consultation stage at present and we have been assured by the EA that there will be a full, public consultation in line with its statutory equality obligations, with children, their parents, schools and education stakeholders. This will include ensuring that the views expressed through consultation are fully taken into account. NICCY will be engaging fully in this process with the sole aim of securing the best educational provision for our children with SEN today, and in the future.
NICCY will undertake a series of meetings with children with SEN and their parents, as well as a number of visits to special schools over the next 6 months. We commit to listening to, and translating the concerns of children with SEN and their parents to the EA, and monitoring the adherence of the EA to their legal obligations and the rights of children in taking forward its proposals.
We understand the uncertainty and concerns which exist regarding these proposals, but emphasise that they are at a very early stage of development. No decisions have yet been made, and NICCY would encourage everyone with an interest in this issue to fully consider the proposals, either through the pre or full public consultation and make their views known to the EA.
The Commissioner will be working with all parties to ensure that meeting the needs of our children with SEN is the paramount consideration in making decisions about the future delivery of education to children with SEN in Belfast.