A NEWTOWNARDS mum has launched a furious attack on the Education Authority as she battles to secure a nursery place for her son who has disabilities.

Amid concerns that major cuts are coming in the special educational needs sector, Donna Tyson has strongly criticised the Education Authority (EA) for failing to tell her where her son Rory will be attending in September.

The three-year-old has epilepsy, a severe learning disability, a global development delay and is non-verbal but isn’t currently classed as having a ‘profound’ learning disability to warrant a nursery space under the new EA guidelines for placements.

The EA has only a statutory obligation to provide spaces for P1 children and is reducing or removing altogether the nursery unit from special schools.

Instead the EA is proposing that special units could be set up within mainstream schools, linked as satellites to existing neighbouring special schools.

Children with severe learning disabilities will be placed within these new units, which Mrs Tyson says the Education Authority is trying to ‘wrap up very nicely to sell to parents’ within a mainstream school.

The new proposal also says that children with a moderate learning disability will end up in a mainstream classroom with a classroom assistant.

With the education budget facing major cutbacks, including a reported 50% cut in special educational needs funding, and with the new units in mainstream schools still very much up in the air, Mrs Tyson is still waiting to hear where Rory will be placed.

“At this point, Rory doesn’t have a special education place and he also doesn’t have a mainstream place,” she said.

“My argument is that Rory falls under the profound learning disability category and while I have had verbal assurances last week from the area planning department, they are not prepared to put it on paper.

“You would think that he is in the profound learning disability category, but a woman from the EA said she has seen children with severe learning disabilities, who are non verbal, in these units and that they are wonderful.

Mrs Tyson, who works in special education, rejected this out of hand and said the reality is completely different.

“I work in special education and that doesn’t happen,” she said. “The onus is then put on principals of schools who deal with the fall out from this when children aren’t placed properly and then it’s years upon years of fighting to get them into a special education school.”

Donna has taken her plight to the media to highlight the difficulties facing families with children with special educational needs, with nursery places being reduced or removed and with the funding cuts to schools and community projects.

“We went on the radio twice last week and the Chief Executive of the Education Authority came on air on Thursday but we still have no place,” she said.

“I’ve had assurances from the head of the planning department that she’ll contact me this week with ‘an update’ but there’s still no confirmed placement.

“My belief is that I got that phone call from the EA to basically stop me from going back on the radio as they got such a fight back from it.”

Mrs Tyson says children with special educational needs thrive in special schools where they have a better staff to pupil ratio, purpose built sensory rooms, some might have soft play rooms, safe spaces for children who might hurt themselves, on site speech and language therapists and occupational therapy.

“Unfortunately, it’s only because I work in special education that I can see it from both sides, and I just fear people are being sold these lovely units and packages but in a couple of years time it’s going to be a real battle,” she said.

“There’s about four special schools in our radius, but they don’t know whether they will have a nursery unit because there’s no information. The EA aren’t communicating with them either.

“A lot of those services to support those children with educational needs, they aren’t only getting hit in the special schools, they are getting hit in the community too, it’s just awful.”

Donna is frustrated by the lack of communication and says the EA hasn’t been ‘open and honest’.

“The root cause of all of this is the fact Stormont isn’t sitting. Rory has no idea of the politics in Northern Ireland, he couldn’t care less, he is just a child who as a result is suffering because they won’t do their job.”

The EA was asked to comment but had not responded by the time we went to press.