Louise Creelman, a teacher at Bushvalley Primary and President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union.
A BALLYMONEY teacher fears a new Special Educational Needs pilot project is a ‘drop in the ocean’ of an ‘unquantifiable’ demand.
Louise Creelman, a teacher at Bushvalley Primary and President of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, was responding to the launch of a number of specialist provisions in mainstream schools as part of an SEN Area Planning pilot exercise.
“Northern Ireland’s SEN sector was in deep crisis before the pandemic. The scale of that crisis is now unquantifiable,” she said.
“This comes on top of a psychology service which is also in crisis and hasn’t been able to meet needs for too long now, all due to insufficient planning and funding.
“Add to this the aftermath of lockdown where teachers are facing a tsunami of pupils with resultant mental health issues as well as children with special educational needs whose situations have also been exacerbated by the last two years.
“The Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner’s Too Little Too Late paper defined ‘systemic failures’ in the SEN sector and while the New Decade New Approach agreement has seen some review of the sector, progress has again been stifled by political chicanery.
“Around 80,000 school-age children in Northern Ireland have some form of special needs, almost a quarter of all pupils. More than 18,000 of those have a statement.
“However, it is likely the statementing figure should be higher. For instance, last year almost 4,500 children were waiting for an autism assessment.
“So in truth the scale of unmet need is currently unquantifiable while schools are expected to struggle on themselves without the capacity to provide proper support for children with increasingly complex social, emotional and behavioural difficulties.
“We need a more integrated approach. Ensuring that children with special educational needs get the education they are entitled to and so a chance to live their best lives is not solely a challenge for the education sector.
“Their needs are often complex and multi-faceted, learning as well as health related, and we hope the Minister will take this into account when it comes to longterm commitment to and budgeting for the support these children so desperately need and deserve."