Robbie Butler Urges Secretary of State to Act Now to Address Underinvestment in Special Education Needs

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Robbie Butler Urges Secretary of State to Act Now to Address Underinvestment in Special Education Needs

Ulster Unionist Education spokesperson Robbie Butler MLA today urged the Secretary of State to act now to address underinvestment in Special Education Needs.

Robbie Butler said, ‘The shortfall of provision for Special Education Needs spaces both in special and mainstream schools is failing children and families right across Northern Ireland. Many parents have been left in limbo not knowing if there is going to be adequate SEN provision for their children in the new school year. This week, I have been inundated with messages from parents who are overcome with worry due to the ongoing uncertainty with regard to their child getting a place at Nursery School. Some of these children require specialist assistance and have, in their early years, already had to battle harder than most, and it is this inequality that is hard to accept. 

This is a failing and it is all the more galling since it was entirely avoidable. The indicators of the requirement for more SEN provision have been evident for a number of years and yet neither the Department of Education nor the Education Authority have taken the necessary steps to adequately address this. No child should have their educational prospects denied because of budgetary brinkmanship or other avoidable reasons, particularly those with enhanced, special, or severe learning needs. Yet this is the reality currently being faced by hundreds of families. It’s time we stopped treating our most vulnerable young learners as chess pieces and put their future and opportunities first. 

SEN families are being failed, but this failure is also political. With no Minister in charge of a budget and transformation strategy, no Education Committee to hold officials and the Minister to account, and no Executive or Assembly for members to raise the issue, there is little chance of a political solution. Persistent political underachievement in Northern Ireland should not be used by the Secretary of State to punish our youngest learners. The DUP boycott of the Executive and the failure to see the restoration of the Assembly should embolden the Secretary of State to act now in regard to the underinvestment we have had in Education for more than 10 years.’