Belfast Telegraph

Whistleblower claims Education Authority 'misled' parents over applications for disabled children

The Education Authority said it was taking the claims extremely seriously.
The Education Authority said it was taking the claims extremely seriously.
Mark Edwards

By Mark Edwards

A whistleblower has claimed the Education Authority (EA) "misled" parents of disabled children in Northern Ireland about when applications were received by the government body.

The EA has said it is taking the claims extremely seriously and encouraged the whistleblower to come forward and speak to senior management of the government body.

A former employee of the organisation told BBC Radio Ulster's Nolan Show that staff were instructed to pretend they had not received applications because they would not be able to process them in the designated time.

The applications were submitted to the EA so that children with disabilities could receive help and support to allow them to be able to go to school.

The unnamed whistleblower told the Nolan Show: "We would get letters in, applications in, and if I went to stamp the letter I would get in trouble because the stamp would have the date.

"When you got a letter you only got six weeks or three months (to process it), I am not 100% which one it was.

"But we were told not to stamp it because it wouldn't be done in time. So we would have to leave these letters, the applications, that needed to be done as soon as possible, we had to leave them to the side, so it would take longer than the parents or the schools were told.

"We wouldn't even start the process for a few weeks or a month."

The whistleblower worked processing applications for a period of two months from November last year.

He said during his short time working at the EA, files were lost and left in disorganised piles.

"There was a desk next to me and there was a hundred files on the floor, around it, they were a mess," he said.

"These files were so old, they were just falling apart. And you were looking around for numbers, the whole place was a mess and the files couldn't be found."

The whistleblower said hardworking staff were overwhelmed by the number of applications.

I take the matters raised by a former EA staff member extremely seriously. Sarah Long, EA chief executive

Sarah Long, chief executive of Education Authority, said the organisation was committed to the "highest standards of openness and accountability".

"We actively encourage and welcome feedback from members of staff, parents and schools," she said.

"I would encourage him to contact EA or speak with me directly about these allegations as soon as possible. Serious concerns can also be raised through our whistleblowing process so that these issues can be properly investigated."

NI Commissioner for Children and Young People, Koulla Yiasouma, told the Nolan Show the allegations were "incredibly concerning" saying she would be encouraging the EA to investigate the matter.

Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan called for a rigorous investigation into the allegations describing them as "truly shocking".

At the heart of this is children with special educational needs who are among the most vulnerable in our society. Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan

“Our constituency offices are inundated with these cases and we have been working with support groups to help children and families who are rightly frustrated," she said.

“I will be seeking an urgent meeting with the EA to ensure our children receive the education and care which they are entitled to.”

Ulster Unionist MLA Rosemary Barton, a former teacher for more than 30 years, said: “Failing to stamp applications in an attempt to manipulate response times is a particularly disturbing accusation and I have contacted the Education Authority demanding that, if true, the practice is stopped immediately and that those officials behind it are held to account for their actions. "

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