‘Guidance for re-opening Special Schools falls far below Child’s Right to Education’, say Children’s Commissioner

30 June 2020 News
‘Guidance for re-opening Special Schools falls far below Child’s Right to Education’ - Cover

Following the Publication of the ‘New School Day Guidance for Special Schools’ by the Department of Education, Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said,

“During the height of the Pandemic it was concerning that the duty towards children with special educational needs was diluted to allow authorities to ‘do their best’ to meet the needs of children. It is therefore entirely unacceptable that this guidance, as we move out of the Pandemic, specifically states: “The full range of service provision may not be offered as set out in an individual’s statement of SEN but will be delivered on a best endeavour duty”.

“Too many children with statements have had little or no provision during the crisis, therefore the suggestion that their needs will not be met in accordance with what they are legally entitled to is unconscionable.

“Whilst, of course, I recognise, these are extraordinary times and that mainstream schools are working towards a blended learning approach, this cannot be the solution for special schools and alternatives must be found to accommodate this.

“Special schools are just that; they not only provide a safe learning environment but a place to access medical and therapeutic interventions, provide routine and social interaction for children, and respite for parents, carers and siblings; many of whom have informed us they at breaking point. Continuity of provision is critical for these children and this can only be fully delivered in the school setting.”

Commenting further on the guidance in relation to services set out in a child’s SEN statement being provided, Koulla said,

“Children, parents and schools need clarity on what can and cannot be provided, if services can’t be provided – then I would want to know why. Schools must be given every additional resource necessary to make sure every child gets the education and care that meets their assessed needs.”

In accompanying guidance, the Children’s Commissioner outlines what should be considered in order to allow all children in special schools to return safely, this calls for:

  • Parents/carers, children and young people to be given the opportunity to inform the plans on re-opening schools.
  • More clarity on the proposed use of protective bubbles and expectations around social distancing, given that it is practically impossible for staff to adhere to such social distancing measures in special schools. Particularly when giving medicine and providing personal and pastoral care.
  • The provision of appropriate PPE for schools reopening.
  • The provision of appropriate transport arrangements and full and timely communication from the EA.
  • Assurance from EA that meal provision for schools will be as it was pre-Covid-19.
  • The planning of appropriate services such as nursing, speech and language, physiotherapy and occupational therapy over the summer months so that they are in place for school re-start. Schools must also be supported to identify the services required, with input from parents, and must have their needs accommodated, and services established, by the PHA as quickly as possible.
  • More clarity on alternative measures to ensure the protection and wellbeing of children, young people, and staff should a child display symptoms in school. It is not acceptable for a child or young person to be isolated or placed on their own.

Concluding, Koulla Yiasouma said,

“Finally, it is vital that future guidance advises on how schools can effectively support children and young people to become ’education ready’ during the first term, drawing on the experience, expertise and wisdom of teachers and parents. It must also detail how supports and services for children with SEN in mainstream settings, newcomer pupils with SEN and pupils with SEN in Irish medium settings will be reinstated. This could include additional supports that may be required following the break from education, and arrangements that will be made to facilitate school placements for children with SEN in the case of part-time returns.

“Plans to stop the ‘temporary modifications’ put in place to facilitate the Pandemic are also required along with details on how the EA plan to address the backlog of statutory assessments and statements.”


Notes to Editors