I missed out on education because of illness, but other children needn't
A young woman who was stranded without access to education after leaving school for health reasons at the age of 14 has slammed schools for failing to use a video-conferencing facility.
Catherine Little left the school she had been attending in Enniskillen two years before her GCSEs.
She was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome a year later.
Catherine says she has never been offered any form of home tuition or access to education, despite her constant requests.
Six years later, the 20-year-old has no qualifications, despite enrolling herself in two courses at regional colleges. She claims she is one of hundreds of children who are neglected after they are forced to pull out of school temporarily for health reasons.
Yet classrooms across Northern Ireland have been equipped to video-conference lessons to the home computers of sick children for several years now.
The Elluminate programme – a package provided through schools' £170m C2K IT system – has equipped every school with desktop video conferencing and virtual collaboration since 2011.
Training in the system was also rolled out to teachers. Elluminate Our Lives, an online campaign group made up of pupils, parents and health professionals, claims that hundreds of children in the greatest need of support are denied an education after they stop attending school for health reasons.
Speaking after a meeting with the group yesterday, Education Minister John O'Dowd (left) urged schools to come into the 21st century.
"I appreciate that 'Elluminate' could be an effective tool... (but) I am not satisfied that it is currently being used to its full potential in all cases," Mr O'Dowd said.
Teachers are not obliged to use the package under the revised curriculum, it is understood.
Elluminate Our Lives is now calling for children to be guaranteed access to education within 15 days of being compelled to stop attending their school.
Catherine said: "I have got no help whatsoever, I was offered no services. Then you get to the age where all you can do is get a job and you have no qualifications.
"The education system needs to have equality restored to it," she added.
"It's the people that are disabled, the ones that need the most help, that are getting the least."
Suzanne Lavery, a 21-year-old undergraduate who attended school in Belfast, is a member of the Elluminate Our Lives online campaign group. She said: "When I got ME (myalgic encephalomyelitis) I was 16 or 17. I had to take an awful lot of time out of school. I left school in Upper Sixth in 2009. I had to re-do that year and after one month I had to leave again. (Class) notes were sent back to me from school. In some cases I had to wait a week-and-a-half. But I had to follow the exams boards' website and keep up myself. If I had got more help I do not think I would have been so tired and run down before starting university.