Northern Ireland

Authority 'failing' pupils at Buddy Bear School Dungannon

Buddy Bear School
Image caption Only one of the school's 18 pupils has their place paid for by the Education Authority

The founder of an independent school in Dungannon for children with cerebral palsy has accused the Education Authority (EA) of failing its pupils.

Brendan McConville, of the Buddy Bear School, said the authority "can't be proud" of its treatment of the school.

Only one of its 18 pupils has their place paid for by the EA.

The authority said it gives "significant consideration to medical advice" when deciding where children with cerebral palsy should be educated.

Cerebral palsy is a condition caused by a problem in the parts of a baby's brain used to control the muscles.

Image caption Joanne Reid said she started the 'statementing' process in October 2014, and still haven't got a finalised statement

It can lead to symptoms like difficulty in walking or controlling movement, or speech problems.

However, the severity of the condition varies, meaning that children with it can go to either mainstream schools or a range of special schools.

The Buddy Bear School is an independent school which is recognised by the Department of Education and inspected by the Education and Training Inspectorate.

It is the only school in Northern Ireland to offer an approach called conductive education, which aims to teach children greater control over their movements.

As it does not receive funding from the EA through the common funding formula for schools, it has to meet its yearly running costs through fundraising.

Joanne Reid from Banbridge brings her five-year-old son Jack to the school each day.

He has severe cerebral palsy, which affects his speech and movement.

"He's a happy little child, he's so chatty, he loves music and he's got a strong personality," Joanne said.

Image caption Joanne said she wants her son Jack to stay at Buddy Bear

"We started the 'statementing' process in October 2014, and it's now 2017 and we still haven't got a finalised statement.

"We still don't know what school the education authority is going to place Jack in, but primarily I want Jack placed in the Buddy Bear trust."

In a statement, the EA said it had "a responsibility to ensure that all children with special educational needs have access to appropriate education provision in line with their assessed needs".

It added: "In relation to children with cerebral palsy, the EA gives significant consideration to the medical advice."

It also said that if parents disagreed with the EA's view on the most appropriate school for their child, there was an appeals process in place.

Gary McCann went through that process for four years to get his nine-year-old daughter Katie a paid-for place in Buddy Bear.

"The tribunal lasted probably about four years all in all, from the time they started the statement to the time it was finished," he said.

Image caption Brendan McConville said the authority "can't be proud" of its treatment of the school

"It was time-consuming and very hard on the soul trying to keep motivated and fighting on.

"Thankfully we got there and we won our case."

Brendan McConville said that parents like Gary should not be put through a long battle for statements or funding if they want their children to go to Buddy Bear.

"The Education Authority in my opinion has failed children," he said.

"If you have a parent waiting three years for a statement and an another parent going through an appeals process for three to four years, the EA can't be proud of that."

In response, the authority said that it was "committed to ensuring that all children with special educational needs have access to education provision that best meets their individual needs."