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Many children will at some time in their school career have special educational needs of some kind. In most cases these needs will be met by their ordinary school, sometimes with specialist help. In a few cases, the Education and Library Board may decide to draw up what is called a statement of special educational needs. This describes the child's needs and the special help to be provided.
The law dealing with special education in Northern Ireland is contained in the 1996 Education Order. The Department of Education has also prepared guidance for Boards and schools, in the form of a Code of Practice. Schools, Boards and health and social services authorities must consider the advice given in the Code when deciding what they should do for children with special educational needs.
These pages are meant to help you to understand
- What special educational needs are.
- What schools, Boards and others can do to help.
- What your rights are.
- How you can play a full part in your child's education.
There are some basic points to keep in mind as you read this guide.
All children with special educational needs have a right to a broad and balanced education.
As a parent, you have an important part to play in helping the Board to decide which school is right for your child.
Most children with special educational needs will go to an ordinary school and their needs will be met without the need for a statutory assessment or a statement. Children with statements often go to an ordinary school; in some cases they attend a special unit attached to an ordinary school.
Some children with special educational needs will go to special schools. All children in special schools will usually have statements, or be undergoing statutory assessment.
Your knowledge, views and experiences as a parent are vital in helping your child to develop. Your child is likely to make most progress if you, your child's school and the Board all work together in partnership.
You can help by keeping in touch with your child's teachers and making sure that your child:-
- works on any special programmes set by the school;
- uses any necessary aids such as spectacles or hearing aids; and
- takes any prescribed medicines at the right times.
Remember that you know your child better than anyone. The closer you work with your child's teachers, the more successful any special help will be.
If you have any worries at any time, make sure you share them with your child's teacher, or one of the professionals working with your child, as well as your friends or family.
You and your child may get help from a wide range of other services, including health and social services. If you would like to talk to someone who is independent and knows about children with special educational needs, you may also be able to get help from a voluntary organisation or parents' group. Your Board will be able to tell you about any groups you can speak to.
Parents also have certain rights to appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal if they think the Board's decision is wrong.
The law says that a child has special educational needs if he or she has learning difficulties and needs special help. This help is known as special educational provision.
A learning difficulty is where a child finds it much harder to learn than most children of the same age, or a disability which makes it difficult to use the educational facilities in the area.
For example, your child may have learning difficulties caused by:-
- a physical disability;
- a problem with sight, hearing or speech;
- a mental disability;
- emotional or behavioural problems;
- a medical or health problem;
- difficulties with reading, writing, speaking or mathematics work.
These are just examples. Your child may have more general difficulties with school work.
You may notice these problems yourself. Your doctor, health visitor or clinic may notice them before your child starts school. Or your child's teachers may notice them.
About one in five children may have learning difficulties at some time in their school life. Most children get over their difficulties quite quickly. For others, the effects may last longer.