Belfast Telegraph

Delays in psychological support for vulnerable pupils criticised

Slow process: Geri Cameron
Slow process: Geri Cameron
Lauren Harte

By Lauren Harte

There have been calls for more support to be made available to educate Northern Ireland's most vulnerable children.

Youngsters who have the most serious social, emotional, behavioural, medical or other issues are taught in Education Other Than at School (EOTAS) centres.

Currently there are 34 EOTAS centres here catering for extremely vulnerable pupils aged from five to 16.

Investigative website The Detail has reported that during this school year, more than 670 children have spent time in the EOTAS centres.

The Education Authority (EA) said it has £9.7m to spend on its Educational Psychology Service (EPS) in the 2018-19 year.

The EPS accepts referrals directly from schools, and each school usually has a named educational psychologist in regular contact with it.

EA data shows that the time allocated for direct contact with education psychologists is just 15 hours a year for all of the pupils at one primary, compared with the highest allocation (75 hours) at a large post-primary with high social deprivation.

Loughshore Education Resource Centre on Shore Road in north Belfast provides education for young people with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties from post-primary schools in the city.

Geri Cameron, who is its principal and is president of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT), said: "The Education Authority doesn't compile a waiting list for educational psychology but they are happy for the schools to hold waiting lists.

"It can be a complete nightmare to manage and a slow process.

"It can take from six months to a year for support to be put in place. In some cases the process can take years."

"No child should be disadvantaged because of a lack of resource. It should be needs-driven. That is why the NAHT is keen to find out if money in education is effectively deployed.

"Education psychology should be a gateway to help, but often it's actually a barrier that children have to get through to get access to services."

Dr Clare Mangan, the EA's director of children and young people's services, said: "We will continue to work with parents, schools and partner agencies to manage barriers to learning and development by promoting effective and positive behaviour management strategies to improve the learning and teaching for all.

"We have made significant progress as we deliver quality services to children and young people by employing a proactive approach, with early intervention and flexible programmes.

"We are working very hard at making our services more accessible and visible to schools, to ensure that those children who need it most, get it.

"We will continue to make provision, combine services and to produce budgets on the basis of the needs that are identified."

The Department of Education said that the wellbeing of children and young people is a priority across government and that it recognises that "many children and young people may be struggling to cope with life outside of school which can impact on their ability to engage with learning".

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