Belfast Telegraph

Parents fear for children as Belfast special schools merger plan revealed

By Rebecca Black

Parents have expressed outrage over reports that the Education Authority is planning to close and merge a number of special schools in Belfast.

The proposal is part of a vision to create three large special 'super schools' in the city by September 2020.

The plan is understood to include the closure of Fleming Fulton School and Glenveagh Special School in south Belfast and the creation of a new larger school based in the north of the city.

South Belfast schools Harberton and Oakwood would also close and merge on the existing Harberton site.

The plans for east Belfast special schools would see Park, Mitchell House and Greenwood schools close and merge in a new building.

Meanwhile, St Gerard's school in west Belfast would remain on its current site although the special educational needs of the pupils it admits may change.

Clarawood and Cedar Lodge schools are set to remain unaffected.

However, the plans will only proceed following a consultation process and with the approval of either an education minister or the Department of Education.

Parents of children at the affected schools said they were only told about the plans in an email on Saturday.

Belfast mum Anne-Marie Ward's four-year-old son Caolan goes to Fleming Fulton. She told the Belfast Telegraph she is worried about how all the changes will affect him. Caolan has cerebral palsy, epilepsy and is on the autistic spectrum.

Anne-Marie said it is the lack of certainty over whether or not the school will close and where her son will be transferred which is most distressing.

"I just got an email on Saturday morning to say about the closure happening, then my little boy came home from school all upset, saying 'mummy, is my school closing?'," she said.

"Fleming Fulton has everything he needs. If they are going to try and amalgamate in with a school where people have behavioural problems, it is going to upset everyone."

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll said he has been inundated with calls from worried parents, and also voiced his concern about potential job losses.

"I have been contacted by parents who are quite rightly aghast at plans to close schools which are performing well," he said. "Already, this has caused massive worry for parents of children with sensory issues, learning disabilities and/or physical disabilities.

"Parents have routines in place that work for their children. Uprooting pupils with special educational needs from their schools will have massive implications."

An Education Authority spokesman said: "EA has been engaging with special school principals on these proposals as part of the area planning pre-consultation phase.

"Further engagement is planned with staff and parents as well as teaching and non-teaching unions. The next step will be to publish a set of detailed development proposals for full public consultation. Change of this nature would require ministerial or departmental approval.

These proposals are in line with EA's overall plans to transform education services for the benefit of all our children and young people.

"For children with special educational needs, we are committed to ensuring that children can attend a special school that meets their individual needs, close to where they live.

"This is the beginning of a programme of transformation of the special schools' estate which we hope will improve how we support children with special needs."

Belfast Telegraph

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