(UK) NI: 22,000 SPED students; 300 without a school place for fall

June 23, 2022, Belfast Telegraph: East Belfast mum talks of ‘absolute and utter hell’ in trying to get autistic daughter school place
A Belfast mother has said she has been going through “absolute and utter hell” for the last three months as she tries to find an appropriate school place for her daughter, who has special educational needs.
Over 300 children with a statement of Special Educational Needs (SEN) are without a school place for this September, including 91 who are waiting for a place in a special school and 202 that are seeking places in a mainstream school.

Tina Blackburn told the BBC’s Good Morning Ulster programme she had to remove her autistic daughter - who has had a statement of SEN for many years - from mainstream school in March of this year, “because she was actually traumatised from the experience she had been having”. …

“I don't think anybody has shed more tears than I have. I've been planning and knowing from [my daughter was in] P4 that she needed to be in a special educational unit for a mainstream school, just like her older brother attends.”

The east Belfast mum added: “I did everything I possibly could to make that happen and have constantly been met with brick walls. The result has been very predictable. She went to a mainstream school, she was given a full-time classroom assistant. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out for a number of reasons.”

Ms Blackburn said that last week, she received a phone call to say that the new school she had chosen for her daughter was full, but she criticised the Education Authority (EA), whom she said had her daughter’s statement on their desk for three weeks.

She believes the school they instead had suggested for her child to attend is “utterly inappropriate”.

“What hurt me the most is that I felt they were not even reading her diagnosis because if they had, they would realise she suffers from crippling and chronic anxiety and the thought of putting my daughter on a bus and sending her her 40 minutes to an hour down the road, to and from school every day - I couldn't imagine it.”

More than 22,000 pupils in Northern Ireland currently have a statement of SEN, according to statistics from the Department of Education.
The Education Authority (EA) has said there has been a "significant rise" in demand for special school places and stated that it is "committed to ensuring that each and every child receives a suitable placement that will support and cater to their individual needs”.

“Our Special Educational Needs (SEN) Team are working closely with the family to identify a suitable place, taking parental preference into careful consideration,” the spokesperson continued….

Sinn Féin MLA Pat Sheehan has also called on the education minister and the EA to address the “deeply concerning” lack of school places for children with SEN.

“Given the yearly increase in the number of children with special educational needs, the education minister should have prepared and planned for this eventuality,” he said.

“These children and their families need certainty on what arrangements will be in place come September, and I would urge the education minister and the Education Authority to work to address this issue….