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(UK) NI: Counties add more special places; general enrollment going down

Sept 1, 2022, Belfast Telegraph: EA plans to increase special school, Irish medium and integrated education provision
Two new Irish medium post primaries, two new special schools and several new integrated schools will form part of the Education Authority plans for the next two years - but there was a warning that several other schools could merge or close over that time frame.

The EA operational plan for 2022/24 will see the number of Irish medium post primaries double, with a new school in Belfast and another to serve the west of Northern Ireland, though both are listed as ‘medium term’ projects.

The two new special schools are expected to be in Belfast and Co Tyrone, with Cookstown earmarked as a potential site. Consultation is due to begin in Autumn 2022 on a proposal for the new special school in Belfast.

The EA said it was responding to the need for more places in special schools and also in mainstream schools for pupils with special educational needs in every council area, with an extra plan to expand the Harberton North campus in Belfast to provide more special school places in the city.
While the EA added that the number of school-age children overall was expected to fall over the next decade, the demand for special-school places has risen dramatically in recent years and is expected to keep increasing,
There are currently around 7,150 pupils in special schools - a rise of 500 in the last year alone - with some schools having doubled the number of pupils in the last decade.

And the demand for Irish medium education is also expected to increase, with the figures showing there were more than 7,000 pupils in Irish-medium education in the 2021-22 school year, 1,300 more than five years ago.

The EA document also revealed plans for new Irish-medium primary and nursery schools, including the first Irish language pre-school in east Belfast, Naíscoil na Seolta, developing to become a primary.

A new law requiring the Department of Education (DE) to give more “support” to integrated education was passed by MLAs in April and is due to come into effect in October, with the number of integrated school places is also set to rise.

Plans are in place to develop new integrated primary schools in Londonderry and Belfast while a number of existing integrated post-primaries - Ulidia College in Carrickfergus, Slemish College in Ballymena and Lagan College in south Belfast - will see an increase in pupil numbers.

Four other schools are planning to “transform” to become formally integrated schools.

The EA has previously said that Northern Ireland has too much small and “unsustainable” rural school with pupil numbers are expected to fall further.

Seven schools are listed as “experiencing low pupil numbers” but the EA said there a number of other areas where school sustainability remains an issue, including in Ballynahinch, Crossgar and Saintfield where EA and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools are “proposing to review non-selective post primary school provision”.

EA Assistant Director of Education Kim Scott said she was particularly pleased to launch the first standalone Special Education Strategic Area Plan.

“Given the significant growth in the number of children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland we need to ensure there is sufficient provision in both special schools and specialist provision in mainstream schools to meet the needs of local communities,” she said.
“We also plan to create school places so that pupils with special educational needs can attend their nearest suitable school, which can adapt to their changing educational, physical and medical needs. This is an ambitious plan, but we welcome the challenge….


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