Balancing the books - Are education provisions at risk?

07 October 2014

Will budget cuts adversely impact on children's Special Educational Needs Provision?

The current political impasse at Stormont has led to ever increasing talk of widespread cuts across all government departments. This has got to be a matter of huge concern for our Education and Library Boards, for parents and most importantly, for our children with special educational needs, for whom the Boards usually fund the additional resources that they require for their education. Such children often require additional resources and assistance not commonly provided by schools, to ensure that they can access their education and achieve their potential. It is important that these children are not deprived of necessary resources, to ensure that a level playing field is created and maintained, between them and other children their age.

For many 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 Board responsible for such a child is under a legal duty to ensure that the stated educational provision is made for that child. If this educational provision is not being provided by the Board, 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. However, the legal duties of a Board towards such children are not as clear cut as they are towards children with statements.

For children with special educational needs without the legal protection of a statement of special educational needs, it is open to their parents to request their Board to assess their child, usually at any time. If dissatisfied with the assessment of a child’s special educational needs, or with a decision not to assess the child, parents can then appeal to the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, under certain specific 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 education authority, it is best to seek legal advice promptly. Legal aid is commonly available, particularly where the interests of a child are at stake. Please do not hesitate to contact Brian Moss Solicitor in the Litigation Department for advice about any issues you may have.

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