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NI failing children with special educational needs, says mother

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Good news: At Tullygally Primary School in Craigavon, Minister Peter Weir revealed the £7.5m funding for a new SEN framework and met with pupils Conor and Matthew Hobson,
Molly Forker and principal Kirsty Andrews

Good news: At Tullygally Primary School in Craigavon, Minister Peter Weir revealed the £7.5m funding for a new SEN framework and met with pupils Conor and Matthew Hobson, Molly Forker and principal Kirsty Andrews

Michael Cooper

Good news: At Tullygally Primary School in Craigavon, Minister Peter Weir revealed the £7.5m funding for a new SEN framework and met with pupils Conor and Matthew Hobson, Molly Forker and principal Kirsty Andrews

A Northern Ireland mother has told how her daughter lost a whole year of school waiting for a special needs statement to come through.

This week a damning Audit Office report found the time limit to issue a statement - a legally binding document which lays out a child's needs - was broken in 85% of cases here.

The statutory limit is 26 weeks - but Liane Wilson and her daughter Kayla, who has autism, waited twice as long.

Ms Wilson said: "The whole of P5 she couldn't attend school because they said without a statement they couldn't get her support. Why it should take so long baffled me.

"Often it's copy pasted, and that's been proved by parents who've sat down with their statements, there's been many incidents where they've copied and pasted the wrong name. She was being denied an education - but yet it's supposed to be illegal."

Kayla described her first years of primary school without any support as like "sitting in a foreign classroom", her mum said.

Ms Wilson said there needs to be more services and more support - and more training.

She added: "It's overdue by a decade and it needs to start from the ground up, from health visitors to GPs to schools. Everyone who touches a child should know, they should be trained to see and notice [signs of autism].

"I thought when she was diagnosed, that's when life would be made easier for her.

"I didn't think then that's when I could have to start fighting for everything."

Liane Wilson

The Audit Office report, published on Tuesday, called for an "urgent review and overhaul" of how the Education Authority (EA) provides support for children with SEN. It questioned if the EA's procedures for pupils with SEN were fit for purpose.

Its report is the second in three years, and follows an internal review by the EA in February.

SEN advocate Deirdre Shakespeare said another review would only repeat what families already know. She said: "They have to listen to parents and families, work towards how they can improve their service, not offer further reviews which is a pointless exercise.

"Parents don't need to hear recommendations for their children's education. They need people held accountable for failing their children struggling in a flawed education system that clearly isn't able to provide for SEN children."

A spokesperson for the Department of Education said they welcomed the review, adding: "The Department is working closely with the EA on addressing the issues in the report."

Yesterday Education Minister Peter Weir announced that a public consultation has opened into SEN provision in Northern Ireland.

He also pledged funding of £7.5m to deliver a new SEN framework which will provide additional resources for schools.

Mr Weir said: "Children and young people with special educational needs are among the most vulnerable in our society.

"I am determined to improve the current system of special educational provision and support pupils with SEN to meet their full potential. I want to ensure that parents and children have access to an effective system that is accountable and meets their needs in a more straightforward and responsive way."

Proposed changes will include a defined period in which assessments must be carried out and decisions implemented.

Belfast Telegraph