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(UK) Belfast: New special school; 37% increase in students with profound disabilities

Apr 29, 2021, NI Belfast Telegraph: Special education school to be opened in Belfast to help cope with demand https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/education/special-education-school-to-be-opened-in-belfast-to-help-cope-with-demand-40370087.html

Belfast is to get another special school after it was confirmed the former Castle High School in the north of the city will be reinvented to help cope with increasing student numbers. The premises have been used as an educational resource centre by the Education Authority (EA) since it closed in 2009, but will transfer to the special education needs sector from September for what the EA said is “a temporary period”. An extra 250 places for special education students will need to be found this September and there have been repeated calls for a new special school to serve the growing number of pupils seeking to attend. Around 120 of those places will be earmarked for the Castle High School site, near Fortwilliam. Around 300 pupils were left without a place in September 2020, and the number of pupils attending special schools has increased by about 1,200 in the past five years. … The EA said they were aiming to ensure demand for places was met in 2021. “EA is increasing capacity pressures over a number of years across special schools and specialist provisions in mainstream for September 2021,” it said. “During the 2015/16 to 2019/20 period the profile of pupil need has changed significantly with an increase of 37% of pupils now presenting with very significant intellectual or cognitive impairments placed in special schools. “This has been a contributing factor in relation to the increased demand for special school places.” Principal at Harberton Special School, James Curran, told the BBC that while the extended numbers for next year are a step in the right direction, the SEN sector remains under severe pressure to provide the necessary spaces. “Further and urgent investment is critical,” he said. “Special school principals have repeatedly stated their concerns in relation to the capacity pressures and lack of places in our special schools, particularly in Belfast…. “The current system is at or past breaking point.” The Special Education Needs sector has come under fire, with EA officials facing a grilling at last week’s Education Committee. An independent review into special education needs (SEN) provision in Northern Ireland is to be held and will be extended to look at the overall operation of the Education Authority (EA) in general…. The Children’s Law Centre (CLC) also revealed that a startling 97% of parents taking a case against the Education Authority concerning a child requiring special educational needs had been successful. The Centre’s Rachel Hogan told MLAs: “CLC’s legal advice service has been dealing with continuously increasing numbers of queries about SEN statutory operations for many years to the point where these now form the largest proportion of our total workload.”