Anger as summer schemes for special needs children are halved

June 22, 2010

by Brónagh Murphy

There has been condemnation from local MLAs over cuts being implemented by Education and Library Boards to summer schemes for special needs children.

Sinn Féin’s Mickey Brady and Dominic Bradley from the SDLP have slammed the Department of Education for introducing the changes without consultation with parents or school principals.

The proposed cuts will mean a 50% reduction in the duration of the summer schemes and the removal of transport for children attending them.

Mr Brady says he has met with the Principal of Rathore Special School in Newry to discuss the changes and has described the situation as ‘deplorable’.

The decision to cut this summer scheme from the usual 10 days down to five days and to remove the usual transport arrangements is just deplorable.  These children have the severest forms of learning disabilities and are one of the most vulnerable sections of our society.  To remove this summer scheme which they have been looking forward to all year is a dreadful decision,” he said.

Principal Mr Cassidy was informed of the cuts during last week by the Southern Education and Library Board (SELB) and has expressed concern at the timeframe given that the scheme was to begin in just a few weeks.

“These cutbacks will have a ripple effect not just on the children who were due to attend the summer scheme, but also their parents and siblings who had made arrangements based on the summer scheme,” Mr Brady continued.

“Both Conor Murphy MP and myself have written to the Chief Executive of the SELB in an effort to have this decision overturned.”

SDLP MLA and Assembly Education Committee member, Dominic Bradley, says he is deeply angry at the cuts, describing it as a ‘huge blow’ to the education of the children concerned.

“Make no mistake, this is a cut to a frontline service in education and it needs to be reversed immediately. The aim of each scheme is to provide opportunities for the children and young people aged 5-19 years who have severe or profound multiple learning difficulties/disabilities, to enjoy experiences within a safe and familiar environment which are similar to those enjoyed by their peer groups in mainstream schools,” Mr Bradley said.

“I have contacted the Chief Executive of the SELB and the Minister of Education to urge them to reverse this attack on special education,” he added.

Councillor Pat McGinn has called on Newry and Mourne District Council to respond to situation and seek an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive of the SELB.

“The Council must respond to this savage cut – these children have been looking forward to their summer scheme and it should be allowed to go ahead.  Everything is in place within the school for the scheme to run and we must ensure that these most vulnerable children are not the target of budget slashes,” he said.