Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Barnardo's Northern Ireland


  Barnardo's is the largest United Kingdom Children's Charity providing a range of social welfare services to 20,000 children, young people and their families. Of these more than 5,000 are disabled children and young people.

  In Northern Ireland, Barnardo's provides 29 separate services. We provide a number of major family support and respite services to disabled children in the Eastern, Southern and Northern Board areas. The vast majority of disabled children we work alongside in these services would have a severe/profound Learning Disability. All the children would have Statements of Special Educational Needs.

  Barnardo's believe that the one critical issue which needs to be addressed within Northern Ireland is the right of children who have a disability to have equal opportunity within mainstream schools. In the words of the Rt Hon David Blunket MP:

    "Where all children are included as equal partners in the school community the benefits are felt by all."

  We strongly support the inclusive vision of excellence for all as outlined in the recent Green Paper. We would request that a similar consultation process should be undertaken within Northern Ireland.

  Barnardo's believes an inclusive education system is the key to encouraging the full participation of disabled people in society. Mainstream education provision should offer a range of support services designed to achieve this.

  Key messages from research show:

    (1)  Contact with other children is a vital part of any child's life. Attending their local schools gives children the chance to stay in their own communities and to develop friendships locally.

    (2)  Inclusive education helps all children to develop a strong awareness of difference, and promotes respect, understanding and co-operation.

    (3)  Being educated alongside other children assists disabled children to do better, academically and socially.

    (4)  Children who are educated in segregated schools tend to achieve less academically, have less confidence and self-esteem, and are ill-prepared for an independent adult life.

    (5)  Segregated education is expensive. The same resources could be gradually redeployed into support facilities which enable disabled children to be educated in ordinary schools.

  We are aware that within Northern Ireland the demand for Special Needs Education is increasing which is reflective of a range of factors, including the fact that many more disabled children are living at home. We are concerned that the continued expansion of the segregated Special Education Sector as evidenced by the opening of new schools is short sighted and expensive. There is a need for a strategic shift—segregation is not good for children (disabled and non-disabled) its not good for families and its not good for communities.

  Inclusion cannot be achieved overnight: the transition to inclusive schools relies on careful planning and the redeployment of the skills and expertise presently within segregated sector to support children in mainstream. Inclusion will not happen without the redeployment of these skills and expertise.

  Barnado's would urge the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee to examine expenditure now and in the long-term, and to make the necessary strategic shift, to help create a better future for all our children.

6 April 1998

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