Northern Ireland

Education Authority denies misleading Stormont committee for second time

School setting
Image caption The authority says it is "satisfied" the information provided on 15 June about Fleming Fulton school was "accurate".

The Education Authority (EA) has been accused of misleading a Northern Ireland Assembly committee for the second time in three months.

It is also accused of having "a total lack of openness".

The complaint, from Alliance Party MLA Chris Lyttle, relates to evidence the EA gave about a Belfast special school.

However, in a statement to the BBC, the authority says it is "satisfied" the information provided on 15 June about Fleming Fulton School was "accurate".

The EA previously admitted it had made an "oversight" by providing misleading information to the education committee at a hearing on 16 March into special school nursery places.

The education committee subsequently held a further hearing on the matter on 15 June.

Image caption Chris Lyttle MLA made the complaint about evidence given by the EA about Fleming Fulton School.

As part of that, questions were raised by MLAs about why Fleming Fulton School's nursery, which has not had any pupils since 2014, was not admitting pupils in September 2016.

The school was placed in formal intervention after a poor inspection in 2014, but received a positive follow-up inspection in November 2015.

EA director of children's services Dr Clare Mangan told the education committee that Fleming Fulton School's governors did not want their "issues" to be discussed in public at the hearing.

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Media captionEducation Authority denies misleading Stormont committee for second time

"When it comes to issues that relate to what's happening with individual teachers and what's happening in September, I'm merely conveying to you that what was conveyed at the board of governors yesterday was that they wished that to be conveyed to their staff first rather than hearing it through some committee," she said.

"Last night at the board of governors they were very concerned that their issues would not be discussed in public, so I'm being cautious in terms of what I do say because I had given them that assurance."

Image caption The BBC understands that a number of parents are seeking places for their children at the school's nursery in September 2016.

However, in a letter to MLAs and the EA, sent the next day and obtained by the BBC, the school's principal, Karen Hancock, contradicted that and said that was not the case.

"The board of governors... at no time have requested that information be withheld by the Education Authority in their discussions about nursery provision at education committee level or any other forum," she wrote.

Ms Hancock went on to state that "there are no reasons - resources, physical or financial - as to why a pupil cannot be offered an immediate place within the Nursery at Fleming Fulton School."

Staff at the school had also emailed all members of the committee on 14 June, prior to the hearing, asking them to raise the school's situation with the EA.

The BBC has also spoken to three members of the school's board of governors, who say that at no time did they ask Dr Mangan or the EA not to discuss the school's affairs with the committee.

Mr Lyttle said the EA had misled the committee.

"Dr Mangan clearly attempted to close the conversation on that issue, whereas all the committee members were clear that Fleming Fulton wanted a clear message put out to the committee that they are open and that they are ready to accept children for special educational needs nursery provision.

Image caption Angela Haughey is hoping there will be a place for her son, Charlie

"But that was an issue that Claire Mangan did not want discussed at the committee and I think that's extremely unhelpful.

"I think the Education Authority have misled the committee previously and there continues to be a total lack of openness and transparency."

The BBC understands that a number of parents are seeking places for their children at the school's nursery in September 2016.

One is Angela Haughey, whose three-year-old son Charlie has cerebral palsy and microcephaly.

"Fleming is my nearest and most suitable school," she said.

"At the minute my option is Knockevin in Dundrum.

"That would mean putting Charlie on a bus alone for a 60-mile round trip for two-and-a-half hours of school a day.

"He simply couldn't cope."

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