Belfast Telegraph

Judges consider Northern Ireland education board's challenge of dyslexic schoolboy ruling

BY ALAN ERWIN

Judgment was reserved today in a Northern Ireland education board's challenge to being found to have failed in its duties to a dyslexic schoolboy.

Last year a High Court judge ruled that direct literacy teaching should be made available sooner than proposed.

But lawyers for the unidentified board have appealed the verdict, arguing that everything possible was being done within available resources.

Legal proceedings were brought by the 10-year-old boy's mother over the time being taken to provide the support set out in an educational psychology assessment.

It was claimed that new criteria were applied without ratification when it changed his arrangements.

The decision was improperly motivated by saving resources, breached the child's human rights, and failed to consider his legitimate expectation of receiving direct literacy support in September 2011, they alleged.

Tests carried out on the boy established he was of average ability but had reading and spelling skills in the bottom 2% of children of his age.

His school-based literacy and numeracy support has been reduced in the past year, the court heard.

An educational psychologist recommended a referral be made to the board's outreach support service for pupils with specific literacy difficulties.

His mother told the court he was placed on a waiting list, in expectation of being given a place at the specialist Cottown Reading Unit in Co Down in September 2011.

But in a letter from a board education officer last June she was informed that new arrangements for the 2011-12 school year would involve a teacher from the Literacy Support Service going into her son's school to discuss his test scores and offer general advice on teaching strategies.

The boy's mother was later told that due to the high level of referrals for direct teaching support the board has had to apply criteria.

Although her son was to be considered as a priority for 2012-13, she launched judicial review proceedings.

The board contended, however, that it has no statutory duty to provide for his special educational needs as he is only at Stage 3 of the school-based process of identification and assessment.

Last year Mr Justice Treacy held that the boy required direct literacy support teaching without any further delay.

A declaration was made stating that the board failed to comply with its duty under the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 in identifying whether it is necessary for it to determine the special educational provision the child's learning difficulty calls for.

It also found the programme of literacy support outlined in the letter to the boy's mother is not sufficiently intensive.

But challenging the ruling in the Court of Appeal today, Tony McGleenan QC, for the board, argued that his client was doing all it can in the circumstances.

"The board does the best it can with the resources available to it," he said.

Following submissions the three-judge panel, chaired by Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, reserved their decision on the appeal.

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