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Inquiry into Post Special Educational Need Provision in Education, Employment and Training for those with Learning Disabilities in Northern Ireland 1/3/2016

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I also thank the Committee because, as we in the Education Committee were working through the special needs Bill, we were aware of the work being done by the Committee for Employment and Learning. Indeed, in many ways, there was a synergy between the two pieces of work, and there certainly was for the pupils who were reaching the time of transfer from the special needs school on to, hopefully, work or education or perhaps to some other facility.

I will start by saying that I learned of one major thing that, I think, is an impediment to the pupils in special needs schools achieving their full potential so that they can move on to education or training beyond school age. Members of the Committee had contact with Fleming Fulton School, Tor Bank School, which gave evidence to the Committee, and Glenveagh School, which met members of the Committee informally. One thing that each of them raised was that they are not in full control of the school budget. Unlike a mainstream school, a special needs schools is not allocated a full budget for the year so that it can make use of the budget in the way it professionally sees the needs of the school to be determined; indeed, it does not have control of the outplaying of that budget. I have not had a satisfactory answer from the Education Minister in the Chamber about that impediment. The Committee has taken the opportunity to write to the Minister about it. That is a matter that needs to be addressed so that, when people move on to training and further education, they are best prepared for it.

I only got the report a few minutes after it was launched, and the work that has gone into it is obvious. The report only becomes valuable if it results in action. We are where we are at this time and in this mandate, and it really is about what happens in the next mandate and under the next Minister. It behoves us as MLAs to make sure that specific action comes out of it.

I want to speak about recommendations 10, 11 and 12. They are important recommendations, but those three in particular do not stand alone and need to be coordinated. I speak as someone who has been supportive of a charitable organisation that does extremely valuable work in the area: the Orchardville Society. The Orchardville Society has recognised that, as budgets are reduced, it needs to take specific actions. It has taken actions along the lines of the formation of social economy businesses. Those social economy businesses, some of which have been going for a time, offer opportunities for full-time or part-time employment to those making the transition.

The Orchardville Society offers not only a job but, initially, the training by which skills can be acquired so that a student can make the transition into full-time or part-time employment.

It has taken the opportunity to perform, in association with employers, statutory bodies and stand-alone business enterprises. I think that you will be surprised when you hear tonight what Orchardville actually does.

Unlike Anna Lo, I did not have an opportunity to have my hair cut by anyone from that background. In fact, I would not really be much of a challenge; they would not have to demonstrate much skill to cut my hair. I do, however, eat in Espresso East, which is a cafe run by the Orchardville Society, and I can assure you, Mr Deputy Speaker, and Mr McCarthy that the food there is second to none. So, opportunities are there to be grasped, but organisations need the support to provide them.

That brings me to recommendations 10, 11 and 12, which are where those opportunities need to be picked up. Minister, there is lots that you could do in a coordinating role. However, others have a coordinating role as well, especially when we think of the huge leverage that business organisations have. Organisations like the Institute of Directors, the Chamber of Commerce, the Federation of Small Business, the Sector Skills Councils and, indeed, larger organisations can all, in a coordinated way, offer opportunities, along with DEL, to address these issues. The Minister does support industry and businesses, and these organisations are in receipt of financial aid.

One of the things that the House has been extremely keen to push forward is ensuring that any contracts awarded contain social clauses. Social clauses should also include those coming from a special needs background. By doing that, and by coordinating recommendations 10, 11 and 12, we can make a huge difference in the future to those suffering from special needs.

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