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(UK) Northern Ireland: $89M needed because of 40% increase in SPED numbers in 10 yrs

Oct 12, 2022, Belfast Telegraph: Education Authority warns £80m [$89M] and Stormont support needed to meet Belfast’s special education demands

The Education Authority has warned it will take £80m and the support of a functioning Stormont Assembly to meet the growing demand for special school places in Belfast.

The number of pupils in special education has risen by 40% over the past ten years, and with severe delays in waiting lists for assessments and school places, it said any plans will not be achievable “without cross-departmental support and resources”.

The Education Authority (EA) plans to open a new special school in the city by 2024, and increase the number of pupils at Harberton Special School to 500 – according to new plans published by the body on Wednesday.

There are currently 10 special schools in the Belfast City Council area and 39 across Northern Ireland as a whole - with more than 7,100 pupils, many with complex special educational needs (SEN).

Nine out of the 10 Belfast special schools have seen significant increases in pupil numbers over the past decade, much faster than had been planned for a decade ago.

And as the system struggles, the EA warned that “significant increases in pupil numbers” are having an impact on their “ability to continue to meet the complex needs of their pupils”.

Plans from the EA include the building of a new special school for 275 pupils and creating more than 160 additional places at the existing Harberton school in south Belfast, a school that is already operating across two sites with a second campus in north Belfast with a current enrolment of 324 pupils, aged 3-19.

The former Castle High School site at Fortwilliam will be expanded to admit 160 more pupils, which will go some way to meeting demand, but it will come at a price - almost £33m to develop - as a new location will need to be found for existing EA staff currently based on the site.

There are further plans to construct a new special school in Belfast, and that’s estimated at a cost of £49m [$54M], though that could easily increase….

Last month the EA announced its plans for two new Irish medium post primaries, two new special schools and several new integrated schools as part of a two year programme, 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 were 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.

EA Assistant Director of Education Kim Scott said at the time 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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