Call for increase in special education age limit

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Lisburn and Castlereagh City Councillor Robbie Butler has called on the Minister for Employment and Learning to “seriously consider raising the age limit at which students with special educational needs (SEN) could remain in their schools from 19 to 25.”

Councillor Butler, who is seeking election for the Ulster Unionist Party in the upcoming Assembly election in May, said the constituency already had “a sterling reputation for its excellent provision for Special Needs Education in its schools up to the age of 19”.

However, Councillor Butler said he was frequently being approached by constituents concerned about the post-19 provision.

He suggested that one solution was to raise the age limit to 25 so that Special Educational Needs (SEN) students could remain in the schools for longer.

“In this respect, it is vitally important the Employment and Learning Minister implements an inquiry into post-SEN provision and the effects that will have on what is there.

“It is equally important that the Minister addresses this issue before the end of the current Assembly term as some parents have stated that they would, ideally, like the opportunity to extend their children’s statements beyond the age of 19.

“I suppose that really relates to clause 13 of the current legislation and the definition of a child.

“I am asking the Minister for Employment and Learning to look at that definition to see whether there is the possibility of extending the statement for a small number of pupils who are attending special schools where their parents, and possibly their teachers, would see the benefit in increasing that age to 23 or, in some cases, to 25.

“Part of my concern comes from the evidence which has already emerged from earlier inquiries.

“Work is already being done in our primary schools to prepare children with special educational needs.

“However, once they hit 19 years of age and the transition process, the lack of current provision is a real problem.

“We see schools building up young people only for them to have nowhere to go and nowhere to keep that will for learning or the advantage that they gained in the school.

“I want the Assembly to ensure that there is a cross-departmental approach from Education, Health, and Employment and Learning to make sure that there is a complete package for the large number of children we now see diagnosed with special educational needs. I want to ensure that provision.

“However, my real thrust, coming at this from the Employment and Learning view, concerns clause 13 and whether there is any option or opportunity to extend the definition of a child.”