Children with special needs face particular risk over funding in current year's budget
The absence of any allocated resources in this year's budget to fund additional pressures facing schools in 2018-2019 will undoubtedly be a matter of huge concern for the Education Authority.
But it's also a concern for parents and most importantly, for children with special educational needs, for whom the authority usually funds the additional resources that they require for their education.
Children with special educational needs often require additional resources and assistance not commonly provided by schools, to ensure that they can access their education and achieve their potential.
It is important that these children are not deprived of necessary resources, to ensure that a level playing field is created and maintained, between them and other children their age.
That is why, in passing the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, Parliament imposed a statutory duty upon the Education Authority, to firstly use its powers to ensure that children with special educational needs are identified (article 13 of the order), and assessed if necessary (article 15).
For many children with special educational needs, the educational provision which needs to be made for them is protected by law, as it is written into a statement of special educational needs.
The board responsible for such a child is under a legal duty to ensure that the stated educational provision is made for that child (article 16 (5) of the 1996 order).
If the educational provision set out in a statement is not being provided by the authority, then it would in most circumstances be open to the child (with their parents acting for them) to challenge the lack of (or failure to make) provision through the courts, on an urgent basis.
This right of legal action can equally be open to children with special educational needs who do not have statements, where certain provision has been curtailed or removed.
However, the legal duties of a board towards such children are not as clear cut as they are towards children who have statements.
It is therefore of paramount importance for children with special educational needs, that their educational provision is safeguarded by a statement, insofar as possible. It is open to parents to request their local board to assess their child, usually at any time (article 20 of the order).
If they are dissatisfied with the assessment, or with a decision not to assess their child, parents can then make an appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, under certain grounds.
There are many other issues which can arise in school life and which can cause considerable concern to parent and child alike.
If you or your child are affected by such an issue or decision by a school or the Education Authority, it is best to seek legal advice promptly.
Legal aid is usually available in any matter which requires court proceedings, particularly where the interests of a child are at stake.
- Brian Moss is a solicitor in Worthingtons Solicitors, Belfast with extensive experience in education law matters. For legal advice please telephone 028 90434015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.