“Special Schools Abandoned” says Children’s Commissioner
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, said over 30% of Special Schools are providing education on a part time or reduced day basis and that the NI Government has abandoned them, failing in its duty to provide a full education to children in all special schools.
She explained, “Despite the fact that, at the start of this lockdown, two months ago, the Minister for Education issued a directive requiring all Special Schools to remain open for over 6,000 children and young people, we know there have been a number of schools that have only been able to offer part-time provision.”
Outlining the urgent steps that need to be taken to rectify the situation, the Commissioner raised concerns about the continued detrimental impact of part time education on some of our most vulnerable children’s education, health, and wellbeing.
“It is my understanding schools are facing a number of issues including workforce absence, concerns that risks haven’t been appropriately assessed and adequate safeguards put in place and uncertainty regarding testing and vaccinations.” She said.
“I appreciate this is a significant task but it is disappointing that insufficient work has been undertaken by relevant authorities to anticipate these issues and address them as soon as they arose.”
Special schools were asked to remain open as they provide an essential service for children who have multiple complex needs and disabilities.
The Commissioner said: “It is unacceptable that many children are still not receiving the education and health care they require, and indeed are entitled to, from their Special School setting.
“Urgent action must be taken by the Department of Education, the Education Authority (EA), Health and Social Care, and Special Schools Principals and Boards of Governors to identify and resolve the issues preventing those Special Schools from offering full-time education.”
The Commissioner advised these key Departments and Agencies to work to address:
- Workforce - Further action to be taken by the Department, EA, and leaders of Special Schools to address staff absence, to reduce pressures on staff, to support them to feel safe and secure in the school setting and to provide sufficient cover.
- Accountability – detail on how the Department and EA are holding the Boards of Governors and Management of Special Schools to account to ensure they are doing all they can to keep schools open.
- Improved communications and consultation with schools and parents including ongoing discussion about the mitigations required to enable schools to stay open on a full-time basis.
- Need for regular individualised assessment focused on children’s needs and best interests. Parents need to be confident their child’s needs are being met and any risk to them is being addressed whether in school or out of it.
- Rapid roll out of the testing programme in special schools – interrogate and overcome any issues with the delivery of testing kits.
- Prioritisation of the vaccine for school staff and, in particular, those that work in Special Schools.
- Continuous monitoring and review, in consultation with children and their parents/carers, of the impact of part-time or blended learning on education, health and wellbeing.
She concluded: ‘There must be a concerted, collaborative effort to ensure the safe, full and sustainable opening of all our Special Schools; making sure our most vulnerable children and young people can fully realise their right to an education during this Pandemic and beyond.”
NOTES TO EDITORS
- The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) has a mandate to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law, practice and services relating to the rights and best interests of children and young people by relevant authorities. NICCY has a statutory duty to advise any relevant authority on matters concerning the rights or best interests of children and young persons. The Commissioner’s remit includes children and young people from birth up to 18 years, or 21 years, if the young person has a disability or is/has been in the care of social services. In carrying out her functions, the Commissioner’s paramount consideration is the rights of the child or young person, having particular regard to their wishes and feelings. In exercising her functions, the Commissioner has to have regard to all relevant articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).