The Education Authority is currently undertaking a review of a previous decision to move progressively towards consistent early years’ provision in special schools on a part time basis from September 2016.
In a meeting with the Assembly’s Education Committee today, EA Chairperson, Sharon O’Connor apologised to parents for the handling of the issue to date and confirmed that no new long term arrangements would be put in place until September 2017 at the earliest.
Details were also provided about interim arrangements that would be put in place in advance of the completion of the review to deal with an estimated 20% increase in demand for places in September 2016. This means that some schools will move to a dual day model of early years’ provision to enable them to increase the number of places they can offer in 2016.
Speaking after the meeting Ms O’Connor said,
“On behalf of the Authority, I apologise unreservedly to parents who have been upset by the handling of this issue to date. I wish to assure them today that no long term changes to existing arrangements will be implemented in advance of the outcome of the review which will include a full consultation involving school principals, parents, early years’ practitioners and other relevant stakeholders.
It is very clear however that we are facing an unprecedented increase in demand for places in September 2016. We estimate that 65 additional children will require a place compared with 2015. We are doing our very best to ensure that every child who is entitled to a pre-school place in a special school can access it and that each child’s unique needs are met in an appropriate setting with the right levels of support.
To meet this need, EA has implemented a number of interim arrangements. In discussion with a number of special schools, a range of adjustments have been made to ensure that every child who requires a place in September 2016 will be able to access one.
In addition to creating some new provision in a number of schools, on an interim basis, 6 out of the 14 special schools who currently operate one full time pre-school class per day will offer two part time classes per day from September. This will enable them to increase the number of places available for children who will require them in September 2016.
Ms O’Connor added,
I have a passionate concern for children with special educational needs. I understand the sensitivity that is required when dealing with children with such individual needs and I empathise with parents who only want the best possible education and support for their children.
I have met with parents and principals in relation to this issue and I will continue to take a close personal interest in the review. I will ensure that any decisions are well informed and clearly communicated.”