Anger as education board targets special unit school

Anger as education board targets special unit school

2 November 2011

A GROUP of parents with special needs children have launched a campaign to save their children's school.

Several children from Down District attend Knockmore Primary School in Lisburn, which is the latest school to be targeted for closure by the South Eastern Education and Library Board.

Despite the unit's location in Lisburn, it draws children from throughout the district due to its specialist speech and language units and units for children with autism.

Unusually, it is understood the Board is considering closing Knockmore due to an extensive refurbishment project that is required and not because of its enrolment.

The school currently caters for 159 pupils, 66 of whom attend the specialist units, and has experienced growing enrolment in recent years. However, it requires almost £300,000 of refurbishment work, which the SEELB cannot afford.

Parents fear this maintenance backlog could seal its closure later in the year.

Downpatrick woman Mrs. Lianne Lundy, whose son Sean attends Knockmore's speech and language unit, said parents were determined to fight the closure.

She said Sean had thrived within his specialist setting and feared the impact the school's closure would have on vulnerable children like him.

"There are several parents from this area whose children are collected and taken to Knockmore every day," she said. "It offers services that are tailored for our children, including three social communication units and four speech and language units.

"Our concern is that there are no other suitable units to take our children if it closes and we have no idea what will happen to them."

Mrs. Breige Cassidy, from Teconnaught, is equally concerned about the proposed closure and how it may affect her five year-old son Daniel Savage.

She said Daniel, who has autism and speech and language delay, was "coming on brilliantly" within his unit.

"His speech is coming on so well and he is starting to put words into sentences, which is great progress for Daniel," she said.

"He works with a group of 11 at Knockmore and I would be very concerned about how he would cope if he is put into a mainstream class, even if that was with extra help. When he was assessed, I was told Knockmore was the only place for him.

"Although I would love him to go into mainstream eventually, I know he is not ready yet. He is just building himself up and this change could make him go backwards.

"It is the youngsters who will suffer."

An SEELB spokesman confirmed that the Board reviewed school provision throughout its area on an annual basis and engaged with schools which may be impacted upon by future plans. He said the authority to close a school rested with the minister.