A MEETING between the South Eastern Education and Library Board and staff and parents at Knockmore Primary to discuss plans to move three special needs units from the school has been labelled a “waste of time”.
Last year parents, pupils, staff, politicians and the entire Lisburn community successfully campaigned against a Board plan to close Knockmore, which has been widely praised for its success in integrating several special units within the mainstream school. However at that time the Board said it would be considering moving some units.
Following the meeting which took place last Friday one parent said: “They have come in with the excuse that they wish to spread the provision across the board’s area to minimise travelling times for children on board transport and to have children educated closer to their home communities.
“I am aware of a child who lives at Little Thaxton, literally 10 minutes up the road, yet gets on to board transport at 7.50 am to make into school for 9 am. Transport is clearly the issue here and not the location of our units.
“We would remind everyone that only a small minority of children who attend the units is from outside the Lisburn City Council area.”
The same parent continued: “In the meeting the question was clearly put to them, ‘do you have the demand at present to fill 36 places across three units in the areas you would like to move them to?’, to which they replied no. All questions were given a reply but not answered.”
Jonathan Simpson, spokesman for Knockmore Working Group said: “It is again being handled in an off hand and insensitive manner to both parents and staff, leading to more uncertainty, anguish and stress for families barely recovered from the trauma of the announcement of the impending closure of the school and the eventual reversal of that proposal.
“We do not understand, however, that out of all the schools with units in the board’s area the only school being diluted in its provision is Knockmore, and given that the first evidence of this review came within a few days of the Board deciding to not proceed with the proposal to close the school, it does seem to indicate an almost vendetta.”
Emma McAfee, a member of the Knockmore Working Group added: “The Board has completely mishandled this situation and should once again hang their heads in shame. The meeting was a basic waste of parents’ and councillors’ time as they were incapable of answering very simple and direct questions.
“They should cover all bases and have all the answers before approaching any parents on their children’s future special needs education, and I’m not just talking about those who attend Knockmore Primary School. Its appalling and they seem to forget too easily that it is vulnerable children that will pay for rushed and poorly thought out plans.”
A spokesman for the SEELB said this was the beginning of the consultation process.
“Special needs units are attached to mainstream schools and the purpose of them is to facilitate as many children as possible to return to mainstream education after a period of intensive support. A number of parents have previously approached the SEELB to express concerns about travel times. There is also an increased number of children across the Board area being diagnosed with ASD and with a speech and language difficulty requirement for specialist provision. Trend analysis over a number of years has indicated where a need for provision exists and that in some instances, children do not attend specialist provision because of travel implications.”
He continued: “Officers from SEELB also met individually with the parents of children with special needs from the units prior to last Friday’s meeting, which was open to all parents, including those with children in the mainstream school. Individual meetings were important to consider the specific needs of each child. Many of the children will remain in the units attached to Knockmore School.
“Opportunities still exist for interested parties, either collectively or singly, to put forward views. It also has to be accepted that it would be inappropriate to discuss individual children in a public meeting.
“This is the start of a process and written proposals will be published if SEELB Commissioners decide to proceed with this matter.”