Council can no longer “shirk their role” in ensuring adequate educational provision for all children – including those with special educational needs.
The comment came during the course of a notice of motion brought before Armagh City, Banbridge and Craigavon Borough Council.
It hit out at the “unacceptable delays” in preparing statements of special educational needs, and the fact that the majority were not being completed within the statutory 26 weeks timeframe laid down by central government.
The motion, brought by Sinn Fein Councillor Liam Mackle and seconded by Cllr Maire Cairns, was passed unanimously.
Cllr Mackle welcomed the backing of fellow councillors on the ABC Council.
As a result, ABC Council chief executive Roger Wilson will now write to the Education Authority and the Department of Health, reminding them of their duties to co-operate – under the Children’s Co-operation Act 2015 – and calling on them to “identify and address those barriers which result in statements being completed outside the statutory timeframe and to bring this practice to an end”.
Cllr Mackle said: “Recent research by the Audit Office found that 22% of the school population have special educational needs. That amounts to 76,305 pupils. Just 17,000 of these have secured a statement of special educational needs. Too many are without.
“In the past five years the numbers of pupils with special educational needs has increased by 13% yet, despite this, the system has been starved of resources.
“Early intervention is precisely what these children need yet they face delay after delay in accessing adequate support and provision.
“Parents face endless battles in their quest to secure the support and interventions their sons and daughters require.
“The same Audit Office report found that 79% of statements are not issued within the 26 week statutory time limit. This is a situation that cannot be allowed to continue.
“Far too many children get as far as post primary school without a statement of needs. This has repercussions far beyond education.
“Almost half of the children in the justice system in 2017 had special educational needs.”
Cllr Mackle said the motion – which was passed – aimed to “return focus to this important issue”.
“The Children’s Services Co-operation Act, brought forward by the Green party and supported by our party, requires government departments and local councils to work together to improve the wellbeing of our children.”
Councillor Maire Cairns, who seconded the motion, added: “Council can no longer shirk their role in securing better outcomes for our young people.
“They have a statutory obligation to improve the wellbeing of our children and must step up to the plate.”