Special units must stay at Knockmore,assembly told

THE Assembly had heard plans to reduce the number of special units in Knockmore Primary School described as ‘a retrograde step’.

But MLAs were also told by Lagan Valley members the school was still very much open for business and there was not any new proposal which would threaten its future.

Jonathan Craig spoke on the matter during an adjournment debate and criticised a proposal by the SE Education and Library Board to relocate some of the special units to Dunmurry and Ballynahinch from Knockmore.

“This proposal is concerning for the parents, staff and pupils who worked tirelessly to ensure the school remained open in October” he said. “The proposed relocation of special units will cause much inconvenience to the children and parents.

“I feel this proposed action is a retrograde step. I believe the facility and services offered in Knockmore for children through the speech and language units and social communication units are second to none and the proposal has come as a major disappointment to all involved.”

Paul Givan commended the teaching staff and parents who were involved in raising the issue.

And he added: “It is important that we put out a message that Knockmore Primary School has been saved and, in the immediate future, will continue to operate as a local primary school delivering education for young people.

“It is important that we emphasise that. What we are talking about here is a specific number of units. The school has been saved. It will go into the area planning process, along with every other urban school in Lisburn. It is important that we make it very clear that Knockmore Primary School was saved and will continue to operate in the immediate future, pending the outcome of the area planning process.”

He continued: “We have specialist provision at Knockmore that caters for a lot of children, and the fear is that if we start to split that up by relocating those units, specialist provision elsewhere will be diminished by spreading it too thinly. A discussion needs to take place with the health trust on how it will be able to provide the service if relocation of the units takes place.”

Another issue raised concerned transport. Mr Givan said: “Parents from Downpatrick and parts of Belfast have said that they want to continue to send their children to Knockmore. The fear is that, having been told that there is alternative provision near your home, which you decide to go past to continue at Knockmore, you may then have to meet your own travel costs.”