Mum fighting for improved hours for son who has Down’s Syndrome

David Steele with mum Lyn, brother Owen and pet dog Maisy.
David Steele with mum Lyn, brother Owen and pet dog Maisy.

A mother whose six-year-old son has Down’s Syndrome is fighting the education authority tooth and nail to achieve “adequate hours” to cover his one-to-one classroom assistant needs at his school.

Bocombra Primary School pupil David Steele - who is entering the P3 stage - will, from September, attend 28 hours a week, which is an increase from last year’s 25 hours.

His mother Lyn is angry that the education authority’s southern division in Armagh is refusing to increase his classroom assistant hours from the last year’s 20, “which fell short of his needs anyway.”

She added, “The school principal and staff have been terrific and have fought my case with me. But the authority seems stuck in its petty rules and won’t budge, whatever the educational or health and safety issues. When David started Primary Two last September, for example, he ran out of school on his first morning, and only the vigilance of two parents saved the day.

“Again, I don’t blame the school. The staff don’t have eyes in the back of their heads and it happened at a very busy time. But a bit of flexibility by the authority would resolve this, for it would be more expensive for David to attend a special needs school.”

The school is, meanwhile, having to find the means to fill the gaps left by the policies. And despite determined efforts by Mrs Steele, the school and by Upper Bann MP David Simpson, there are no signs of compromise on the horizon.

“A child’s education is at stake,” said Mrs Steele. “David fits in well within the primary school ethos, but all I hear from the authority is that it was the family’s choice to send him there. We’re taking about a small amount of funding here.”

David is one of three sons of Lyn and Dan Steele, with Aaron (17) and Owen (12) progressing well at their respective schools. “Bocombra is ideal for David,” said Mrs Steele. “But the school shouldn’t have to dip into its own tight budget for what is really the responsibility of the education authority.”

An education authority spokesman in Armagh said, “We cannot comment on individual cases. But additional assistance is allocated to a school to help it meet the needs of a child as specified in our Statement of Special Educational Needs. This assistance is in additional to the funds provided by the school. The authority consults with schools to agree and monitor the allocation of additional adult assistance with opportunity for review.

“The authority always seeks to work in partnership with parents and schools. Where there are unresolved issues, parents can avail of the Dispute Avoidance and Resolution Service (DARS) which is independent of the authority.