Northern Ireland

Priory Integrated College 'discriminated against pupil with disabilities'

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Media captionAlistair Close left Priory Integrated College, Holywood, without any qualifications

A County Down school unlawfully discriminated against a pupil with disabilities, a tribunal has found.

Priory Integrated College, Holywood, was taken to the special needs tribunal by the family of Alistair Close.

The teenager has a statement of special needs because of a range of problems including hearing difficulties, attention deficit and dyslexia.

His mother claimed he did not get the help he was entitled to at the school, despite a number of promises to act.

The family took a case against the school with the support of the commissioner for children and young people.

'Disappointed'

Alistair Close is now 19, but his problems began at the Holywood secondary school more than three years ago.

He told the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal there were problems with his classroom assistant, with teachers and with fellow pupils.

Image caption Priory Integrated College has been ordered to issue a written apology to Alistair for the discrimination he suffered

The school said it was disappointed when he stopped coming to school but it accepted its pastoral care had not been outstanding.

However, Priory College told the tribunal its staff had done everything possible and that Alistair was not treated less favourably.

Alistair is now getting basic qualifications and horticultural experience at a training company.

'Very emotional'

He told the BBC: "I did not get any qualifications at school but I am working very hard to get my essential skills like English and maths. Going through all this with Priory was a terrible experience, it's been a long hard road."

The tribunal found Alistair was discriminated against on grounds of his disability. It gave several reasons for its decisions, including:

  • There was "little evidence of empathy... evidence of attitudinal discrimination"
  • There was "no imagination or effort put in to enabling use of (specialist) equipment"
  • "The voice of the child was not given the significance and value it merited"
  • Pastoral care "was poor"
  • Classroom assistants "frustrated him"

Alistair's mother, Andrea Close, said she felt he would have achieved a number of GCSEs if he had been given the help he needed at school.

"My total reaction is sadness, I am very emotional about it and I'm relieved it's over," she said.

"I believe in justice and I pushed that forward. I believe in a child's voice and I will continue to work on behalf of other children in a similar position".

Image caption The teenager's mother, Andrea Close, said she felt he would have passed a number of GCSE exams if the school had supported him properly

Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, the Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) said: "It is appalling that any child, not just Alistair, had to go through this process to try to get their educational needs met."

NICCY supported the family's legal battle and is still offering help.

"It is important that the child's voice is heard. I think this judgement will have a positive outcome for Alistair but will also serve as reminder to all schools they must do all they can to make sure a child's needs are met," Ms Lewsley-Mooney added.

'Appropriate action'

Priory Integrated College has now been ordered to issue a written apology to Alistair for the discrimination he suffered.

The principal, Jacqueline Argument, said the school's board of governors would be actively considering the tribunal's decision and take appropriate action, but that it could not comment on individual students.

The school is in the South Eastern Education and Library Board (SEELB) area and a statement from the board said it was aware of the claim to the tribunal and subsequent decision.

The SEELB statement also said it did not comment on individual pupils.

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