A 'breakdown in trust' is failing Causeway Coast's vulnerable children, says Coleraine teacher

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A Coleraine teacher fears the ‘breakdown in trust between decision-makers and teachers’ is failing the most vulnerable children here.

Jacquie White, a former teacher at Millburn Primary and General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers’ Union, was responding to the current crisis in special education.

“The dire situation facing families whose children have additional needs comes as no surprise to us sadly. It’s our daily reality,” she said.

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“For years now teachers have been doing their best to juggle the needs of these children with scant and often non-existent resources, support and materials. We have children in meltdown often with nothing more than a cubby hole as a chill-out space – or no provision at all.

Jacquie White of the Ulster Teachers' Union. Credit UTUJacquie White of the Ulster Teachers' Union. Credit UTU
Jacquie White of the Ulster Teachers' Union. Credit UTU

“Teachers often have no help either to attend properly to that child. For instance, what happens to the rest of the class while the teacher is focussing on the child in crisis? Our children are being failed – not just those with additional needs but their classmates too, not to mention classroom assistants left to cope alone while the teacher withdraws a child for their own and others’ safety.

“For safety can be a very real issue – we’ve had teachers kicked, bitten, threatened with stabbing, punched, spat at - and that’s in the mainstream setting. It is imperative that teachers in mainstream settings can access the appropriate training as a matter of priority to equip them to deal with such situations.

“Make no mistake, this is not rhetoric. This is reality as children present with increasingly complex social, behavioural, learning and psychological needs. Recently there’s been talk of expanding SPIMs – Special Provision in Mainstream schools - however, given the incontrovertible evidence around the lack of support to date for SEN, teachers are understandably sceptical.

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“What we need is a long-term plan with ringfenced long term investment, so teachers and parents are assured that pupils – and staff – have the resources and support they need going forward financially.

“Inclusivity in so-called mainstream schools is a laudable ideal but without committed investment it will once again be teachers who end up the fall guy in a system which cynically betrays our most vulnerable children.”