NI Blog: This year’s budget - is provision for children with special educational needs at risk?

Brian Moss
Brian Moss

Brian Moss, solicitor at Worthingtons Solicitors with extensive experience in education law matters, writes on the upcoming budget.

The absence of any allocated resources in this year’s budget to fund additional pressures facing schools in 2018-2019 will undoubtedly be a matter of huge concern for the Education Authority.

But it’s also a concern for parents and most importantly, for children with special educational needs, for whom the authority usually funds the additional resources that they require for their education.

Children with special educational needs often require additional resources and assistance to ensure that they can access their education and achieve their potential.

It is important that these children are not deprived of the necessary resources, to ensure that a level playing field is created and maintained, between them and other children their age.

That is why, in passing the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, Parliament imposed a statutory duty upon the Education Authority, to firstly use their powers to ensure that children with special educational needs are identified (see article 13 of the Order), and assessed if necessary (see article 15).

For a number of children with special educational needs, the educational provision which needs to be made for them is protected by law, as it is written into a statement of special educational needs. The benefit of this is that Education Authority is then under a legal duty to ensure that the stated educational provision is made for that child (see article 16(5) of the 1996 Order).

If the educational provision set out in a statement is not being provided by the Authority, then it would in most circumstances be open to the child (acting by their parents) to challenge the lack of (or failure to make) provision through the courts, on an urgent basis.

This right of legal action can equally be open to children with special educational needs who do not have statements, where certain provision has been curtailed or removed by the Education Authority or by their school.

However, the legal duties of the Education Authority and schools towards such children are not as clear cut as they are towards children with statements.

It is therefore of paramount importance that for children with special educational needs, that their educational provision is safeguarded by a statement, insofar as possible and necessary. It is open to parents to request the EA to assess their child, usually at any time (see article 20 of the 1996 Order).

If dissatisfied with the assessment, or with a decision not to assess their child, parents can then appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, under certain grounds.

There are many other issues which can arise in school life and which can cause considerable concern to parent and child alike.

If you or your child are affected by such an issue or decision by a school or the Education Authority, it is best to seek legal advice promptly.

Legal aid is usually available in any matter which requires court proceedings, particularly where the interests of a child are at stake.

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