Belfast – On July 9 we shared the story of how a Belfast mum had started an online petition in order to get her young son with autism full time hours at his specialist nursery. Mum sets up online petition after son with autism denied full time hours at specialist nursery
Michelle Bailie who is mum to three-year-old Jacob, was told of the decision by the South Eastern Education and Library Board to reduce nursery hours at Tor Bank School in Dundonald and Clifton Special School in Bangor. This resulted in sessions ending at 11.30am instead of 1.30pm. Jacob’s statement entitles him to a placement at the nursery for full time hours.
Michelle’s petition states:
‘My son, like many of his peers who will be attending Tor Bank and Clifton is non verbal and unable to communicate his most basic of needs. Many of these children have various physical, behavioural and medical needs. They require intense, consistent and individualised intervention which will aid their educational, social and emotional development. These new 2.5 hour sessions will make it impossible to meet our children’s crucial needs which will have a profound effect on their development in their formative years!’
To date the petition has over 1280 signatures.
“To date we still haven’t resolved this issue. I have had a meeting with the education authority who basically danced around the subject by stating that there is area planning underway for the past 3 years to address the shortage of severe learning disability placements within my local area. However there is no date for when this planning will conclude or what will come out of it. Sadly these answers do not help my son or others in his age group.”
Michelle has now gained the support of local political parties and counsellors. Jim Shannon DUP; Mike Nesbitt UUP and Kieran McCarthy, Alliance, are all supporting Michelle.
“The National Autistic Society (Shirelle Stewart) and Autism NI have also issued a statement indicating the detrimental effect this will/could have on Jacob and the huge step backwards this is in terms of services for children with Autism.”
Michelle recently met with the South Eastern Region of the Education Authority and they advised her that the issue at hand was not a funding one, but one that was due to a shortage of places. Michelle put to them the idea of a mobile classroom as well as the reason to as why they could not reduce hours to 25 percent instead of 50 percent. As yet Michelle has received no answers.
Michelle informed us that the Education Authority “were unable to establish how they could possibly fit five hours education and social development into two and a half.” They also could not advise Michelle on “what areas of education would be lost ie, social development, recreational activity or education.”
“I believe that the system is only concerned with the volume of pupils rather than the quality of the education they receive. When questioned on this aspect the EA advised that they had employed another full time teacher. However that is of little importance or help to me as Jacob will still have only 1 teacher and 2 classroom assistants for 2 1/2 hours rather than 5.”