Belfast Telegraph

Angry parents to protest over plans to merge special schools

By Rebecca Black

Concerned parents of children at special schools are set to stage a protest at Belfast City Hall next week over dramatic proposals to close and merge several of them.

Leaked plans by the Education Authority (EA) have revealed proposals to close and merge seven of 10 special schools in the city to create three new larger special 'super schools' by September 2020.

This could mean the closure of Fleming Fulton School and Glenveagh Special School to form a new school in north Belfast.

Harberton Special School and Oakwood School in south Belfast would also close and merge.

And in east Belfast, Park, Mitchell House and Greenwood schools being merged in a new school building.

Parents of children at the schools have voiced their fury, saying the disruption will be catastrophic for their children who have a range of learning difficulties and disabilities, and for whom change is challenging.

Now they are planning to hold a protest at City Hall over the issue next Tuesday.

The group were brought together by People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll, and at a meeting in his office earlier this week unanimously agreed to call a protest.

Mr Carroll said he has been inundated with calls from parents about the plans.

"People were rightly livid about the way the EA has went about this. Many of the parents only found out through social media, on a bank holiday, and speaker after speaker (at Tuesday's meeting) reiterated the need to get organised and mount public opposition to these proposals," he said.

"The EA has tried to gloss this as 'restructuring', but the concern from parents is that this is nothing more than a smokescreen for cuts."

Mr Carroll added: "There is deep concern that amalgamating special need schools means pupils with physical disabilities could be merged with those with profound learning disabilities or behavioural issues.

"There is a duty on everyone to come together and make our voices heard against these proposals."

Meanwhile, yesterday the EA's Director of Children and Young People's Services, Clare Mangan issued a letter for the parents of children in special schools in Belfast in which she says they will be consulted on any proposals for reorganisation of special schools, and children currently attending the schools will not be impacted.

She voiced disappointment that the proposals were leaked to the media, but stood by them.

"These proposals are in line with EA's overall plans to transform education services for the benefit of all of our children and young people. We want to ensure that children with SEN can attend a special school that meets their individual needs, close to where they live," she writes.

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