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(UK) Northern Ireland: $136M education deficit; cuts "could impact heavily" on SPED

Jan 20, 2023, Belfast Live: Belfast mum says SEN cuts could leave children "forgotten about"

A Belfast mum says she fears what could lie ahead for children with additional needs if further cuts are made to the education budget, which would include special educational needs (SEN) provisions.

The Education Authority (EANI) has asked schools to find further savings after the NI Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris set out an education budget that left a funding gap of about £110 m [$136M].

EANI said it could not support the proposed budget and intends to present other proposals to the Department of Education for further consideration.

Nicola Harvey's eight-year-old daughter Destiny received an autism diagnosis in P1 and a further ADHD diagnosis a few years later….

Nicola said she ended up having to withdraw Destiny from her mainstream school as it was causing her so much distress. She worked with the Children's Law Centre and Autism NI in the intervening period to try and get a Special School placement.

It took a reassessment and a tribunal before Nicola was able to find a place for Destiny at a special school.

"She has been attending for the last two to three weeks, with her new school she is doing more 'hands on' work and accessing a differentiated curriculum….

Nicola said she worried that proposed cuts which could impact heavily on SEN provision would be devastating for many families and could cause mental health difficulties for the children affected.

"Where do these children go? Are they forgotten about?," she said.

"There are so many children being missed who need additional support right now, with more cuts children cannot fulfil their educational needs and they’re being left and could potentially become more vulnerable as adults.

"They need the support when they are children, otherwise, it won’t set them up for life." Autism NI CEO Kerry Boyd described the proposed budget cuts as "alarming" and said it would be "particularly worrying" for SEN children.

"The Autism NI Helpline receives over 6,000 calls each year with education remaining the primary reason for concern," she said.

"Many parents have highlighted difficulties with the lack of access to the right supports for their child.

"This is further compounded by many services being unavailable which has a profound impact on an autistic child’s emotional wellbeing.

"Therefore, any cut in the current budget would undoubtedly have a detrimental impact on our children’s educational outcomes and ultimately prevent them from reaching their full potential."

The Northern Ireland Office said the Secretary of State had been left with no choice but to issue a budget, which it said represented an increase of £268m from the previous allotment.

“The pressures affecting the Northern Ireland Department of Education demonstrate the pressing need to have locally accountable political leaders in place to take fundamental decisions on Northern Ireland's public services," a spokesperson said.

"The previous Executive failed to agree a Budget and with a budget gap of some £660m and no Executive in place, the Secretary of State has had no choice but to step in to deliver a budget for Northern Ireland.

"The Secretary of State introduced the Northern Ireland Budget Bill on 12 January that will implement the budget that was set on 24 November.

"The budget has increased Education funding by giving it a total allocation of £2.64 billion which is an additional £286 million on top of last year’s spending."

EANI said that to find a way to close the £110m funding gap and balance the budget by March of this year, would mean "highly unacceptable and detrimental risks to our children and young people and could not be recommended for implementation."

"We remain very concerned about the ever growing, unprecedented pressures facing education which will carry into the next financial year," said EANI Chief Executive Sara Long.

"And the potential detrimental and significant impact this could have, for example, on the day to day running of schools, Special Educational Needs support, transport and catering, and ultimately on the educational experience and outcomes of our children and young people."….

“This unprecedented situation can only be fixed by sustained investment in education, continued transformation of critical services, including Special Educational Needs, and greater recognition of the significantly important role education plays in shaping, investing and protecting the future of our children and young people," he said….

"The budget imposed on education by the Secretary of State [SOS] and the Northern Ireland Office [NIO] is woefully inadequate in meeting the needs of our children and young people".

Mr Murphy said it would continue to resist the cuts being proposed and that it would increase the determination of those of its members already engaged in industrial action.

The letter from EANI advised schools to avoid entering into any new contractual arrangements for staff or services.

Justin McCamphill from the NASUWT said his members would not take on any further work brought about by a lack of staffing elsewhere.

"The Education Authority has been placed in an invidious position by the Secretary of State who has made specific reference to school spending and the EA Block Grant," he said.


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