Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 December 2014

Girl with Down's Syndrome loses legal bid to go to Belfast school

The High Court upheld a determination that the girl should attend St Columbanus' College in Bangor.
The High Court upheld a determination that the girl should attend St Columbanus' College in Bangor.

A girl with Down's Syndrome has lost a legal challenge over being denied a place at the high school of her family's choice.

The 14-year-old from north Down was seeking to judicially review the decision reached by a special educational needs tribunal.

High Court proceedings were issued after a panel upheld a determination that she should attend St Columbanus' College in Bangor.

The girl's mother wanted her instead to be given a place at St Joseph's College in Belfast.

Her legal team argued that she was being excluded from full mainstream education.

It was claimed that the decision breached her human rights and special educational needs legislation.

But dismissing the case Mr Justice Gillen said: "I see no basis for concluding that it was irrational to conclude as it did that it was more appropriate for the applicant to be taught by people trained in teaching pupils with severe learning difficulties and in a setting with therapy on site for advice and support. 

"Similarly the tribunal was well equipped to make the conclusion that St Joseph's did not have the resources to continue with the high level of internal support which was apparently necessary when the applicant was in primary school."

The girl, who cannot be identified, has not been in class for more than a year.

Counsel for the girl had contended that the case was all about inclusion.

It was argued that the tribunal's decision imposed a policy that Down's Syndrome children can only be educated in schools with previous experience of children with the condition.

But a barrister for the tribunal rejected claims of irrationality in a decision taken after exploring the practical and obvious differences between the two schools.

She also stressed there was no evidence of any policy of confining children such as the applicant to schools where there had already been Down's Syndrome children.

In a ruling given earlier this year but only just published, Mr Justice Gillen rejected all grounds of challenge.

He found no basis for challenging the tribunal's determination that St Columbanus had staff trained in teaching Down's Syndrome children whereas St Joseph's did not.

The judge added: "I conclude by recognising that this outcome is unlikely to find favour with the applicant's mother.

"I trust that she will accommodate herself to the position as it now is in the interests of the child, and take steps to have this child attend mainstream schooling so as to avoid any long-term damage to her education and well-being."

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