Northern Ireland

Girl kept out of school over dispute

Four-year-old Farrah Morton
Image caption Four-year-old Farrah Morton has not started school with her friends

The mother of a child with special education needs has said her daughter's health and education are suffering as she has not yet started primary school.

Four-year old Farrah Morton from Dundonald should have started mainstream school in September.

Farrah has medical conditions but no learning difficulties.

Her parents are in dispute with the Education Authority (EA) over which primary school is suitable for her.

In response, an EA spokesperson said the department was "committed to ensuring that every child is appropriately supported in line with their individually assessed needs".

"Where agreement cannot be reached, parents can lodge an appeal with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal," said the spokesperson.

Medical condition

Farrah Morton was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in March 2016.

Her mother, Fern, said she also has an undiagnosed stomach condition which means that she has to wear a stoma bag.

"Farrah has a stoma which is a bag that helps her to go to the toilet," she said.

"She has a bag on the outside of her skin that would collect the bowel motions."

Due to Farrah's medical conditions, her parents want her to go to a school with a social communications unit.

Image caption Fern Morton wants her daughter to go to a school with a social communications unit

That is a unit in a mainstream primary school which enables pupils with ASD to begin their education in a small group.

Many of the classes have only about six pupils with two or three staff.

They receive enhanced support and integration into mainstream classes takes place when the individual pupil is ready.

However the EA want to place Farrah into a primary school without a unit, meaning she would enter a primary 1 class with around 30 pupils.

They have offered part-time specialist classroom assistant support for Farrah, but her parents said that was not enough.

As a result, Mrs Morton said, Farrah has not started school yet and was becoming more anxious.

"She's gone back to the baby stage where her dummies are back in, the nappies are back on," she said.

"It's just making her more anxious and she's going backwards."

Friends all at school

"She's just miserable as all her friends are at school," she added.

"All the other children who are four and five are getting on with everything and Farrah is stuck at home."

In response, an EA spokesperson said that they could not comment on the circumstances of individual children but that they are committed to ensuring that every child is appropriately supported.

"Where agreement cannot be reached, parents can lodge an appeal with the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal," they said.

However as the appeal process can take a number of months, a solution to enable Farrah to begin school may not be found until 2018.