Special needs whistleblower: calls for independent review

Trade unions representing education workers in Northern Ireland protest at the Londonderry office of the Education Authority in April 2018 to highlight their common concerns over Special Educational Needs provision. The protest was timed to coincide with the monthly board meeting of the EA. Photo: Kevin Cooper.
Trade unions representing education workers in Northern Ireland protest at the Londonderry office of the Education Authority in April 2018 to highlight their common concerns over Special Educational Needs provision. The protest was timed to coincide with the monthly board meeting of the EA. Photo: Kevin Cooper.
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The UUP and SDLP have called for an urgent review of the Education Authority’s handling of Special Education Needs cases, after an alleged whistle-blower claimed that the management of files in the organisation was chaotic.

A man who claimed to have worked on the cases for two months last year told the Radio Ulster Nolan Show that he was directed not to date stamp letters as it would constrain the authority to respond within a certain time frame.

While the staff in the department worked very hard, he said, the files were very poorly organised, with many going missing and no prioritisation given to very urgent cases. The EANI told the Nolan Show that it took the allegations very seriously and asked the man to contact them to discuss his experiences.

UUP Education spokeswoman Rosemary Barton MLA called on the Department of Education to carry out an immediate and independent review. A former teacher for over 30 years, she said the allegations about how cases were processed are “appalling”. She added: “Failing to stamp applications in an attempt to manipulate response times is a particularly disturbing accusation and I have contacted the Education Authority demanding that, if true, the practice is stopped immediately and that those officials behind it are held to account for their actions”.

She has seen first-hand “the delays, broken promises and general chaos” while working with a number of families, she added.

SDLP Children and Young People Spokesperson Colin McGrath MLA said that the Education Authority must begin an urgent and robust investigation.

“SDLP offices across the North are routinely visited by parents at their wits end because the process for securing support for their children is difficult and they feel like those responsible are deliberately frustrating them” he said. “I have seen children forced to wait their entire primary school life for additional support through an SEN statement.”

A spokesperson for the Education Authority said it’s special Education team works hard to support children with special needs on a daily basis.

“EA is built on a culture of openness, equality and respect for all,” she said. “We strive to deliver excellence in all that we do and are committed to transparency and accountability in the delivery of our services. We are treating the anonymous concerns with the utmost seriousness and are currently looking into the matters raised.”