Northern Ireland

Commissioner will investigate special needs education

Children in classroom Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Almost 23% of schoolchildren in Northern Ireland have special educational needs

The children's commissioner is to investigate the education of children with special educational needs (SEN).

Koulla Yiasouma said her office would look into how decisions on the schooling of SEN children were made.

She made the comments after a mother told the BBC that her autistic son had not been to school for six months.

Ruth McClure said the Education Authority (EA) had not been able to find a suitable place for him.

In response, the EA said it was committed to meeting the assessed needs of individual children.

The Northern Ireland Audit Office has previously said that children with SEN are not being effectively supported.

Nearly 79,000 pupils in Northern Ireland have some form of SEN - almost 23% of the school population.

Of them, more than 18,000 have a statement of SEN.

Ms McClure told BBC Radio Ulster's The Nolan Show that her 10-year-old son Micah began to experience serious problems at school in Primary Six.

"He's just refusing to do any work at all and now it's getting so bad and the anxiety is so severe that he's actually hitting out," she recalled.

'Emergency meeting'

She said that the school had suspended her son on a number of occasions and also removed him from his normal class.

"Obviously his special education needs weren't being met and the school recognised that," Ms McClure said.

"The school recognised that and they called for an emergency statement meeting."

Ms McClure said that meeting took place in early 2018 and as a result it was recommended that her son be placed in a specialist school unit for children with autistic spectrum disorder (ASD).

She said she subsequently visited a number of schools to see where it would be best for her son to be educated.

Image caption NI children's commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said her office will investigate how decisions were being made

However Ms McClure said that Micah did not get an alternative school place and subsequently returned to his existing primary school at the start of Primary Seven.

She said that he was soon suspended again and has not been back to school since September.

She also said that given Micah had been out of school for so long she was also worried about his education in future.

"There is no way on this Earth am I sending my son to a mainstream secondary school - not a chance," she said.


In a statement to the Nolan Show, the EA said it was "committed to meeting the assessed needs of individual children and young people and continues to work in partnership with parents and schools to identify appropriate provision".

The Children's Commissioner said that adequate support for children with SEN was one of the concerns raised most with her office.

"My staff speak with the EA virtually every day about individual families," said Ms Yiasouma.

"I'm investing a huge amount of our own resources in doing this review.

"It is deeply frustrating."

She added: "Any child who's been allowed to languish outside of school without any intervention is not receiving their absolute right to education."

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