Brian Moss, Solicitor, considers the challenges facing parents with the fast approaching new school year
Back to school. Those dreaded words, soon to be reality for children across the province. The summer of long, careless days is drawing to an end, and it will soon be time for new shoes, uniforms, pencil cases and homework.
It is often said that school days are the best days of our lives, but in an increasingly competitive world, few could doubt the importance of working hard in school and making the very most of your education.
For children with special educational needs, they often require additional resources and assistance not commonly provided by schools, to ensure that they can obtain the benefit of their education and achieve their potential. It is important that these children are not deprived of necessary resources, so that a level playing field is created and maintained, between them and other children their age, who do not have such additional needs.
Several years of UK central government austerity has resulted in cutbacks to all Northern Ireland government departments. In consequence, it is well known that the Education Authority, who usually fund the additional resources which children with special educational needs require for their education, face a huge budgetary crisis. This must be a matter of very serious concern for all who are involved in our education system.
For many children with special educational needs, it must therefore be of considerable reassurance that 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 Education Authority 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 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. However, the legal duties of the Education Authority 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 the Education Authority to assess their child, normally 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 by the Education Authority itself, it is best to seek legal advice promptly. Legal aid can be available, particularly where the interests of a child are at stake, and especially if court proceedings are required. Please do not hesitate to contact our Mr Brian Moss for advice about any issues you may have.