Education: New special schools built over next decade - Givan

Up to eight new special schools will be delivered in Northern Ireland as part of a new school investment programme, the education minister has said.

It will require about half a billion pounds of capital investment over the next decade.

The programme will enable the development of a range of school facilities to support children with special educational needs (SEN).

Paul Givan said it will "transform the education and lives" of SEN pupils.

Speaking in the Assembly on Tuesday, Mr Givan said: "It is simply not good enough that many of our most vulnerable children are being educated in ageing facilities, too often without adequate equipment and resources.

"Our special school staff, who work with our most vulnerable learners, need and deserve facilities that match their skills and expertise."

Analysis box by Robbie Meredith, NI education and arts correspondent

The minister is well aware of the problems many children with special educational needs (SEN) face to just get a place in school.

They and their families often face a battle for something that is relatively straightforward for other children.

In part that is because our existing special schools are full to the brim and many mainstream schools do not have the room or resources to offer specialist places.

So investment to tackle that, to build new schools and expand existing ones, will be welcomed.

But it is a long-term strategy which will have a limited impact on addressing what some MLAs have described as a "crisis" in the short term.

Schools do not get built and up-and-running quickly.

The increased demand for school places for children with SEN has been known about for years so there is also a question about why it has taken this long to begin to build to create more capacity.

Therefore many families of children with SEN still face the same uncertainty in the short-term.

In a statement, a spokesperson from the Department of Education said the new schools could be located "potentially four in Belfast and four elsewhere across Northern Ireland".

The spokesperson added that the Education Authority "has been asked to submit detailed proposals for consideration".

The statement said the department had "secured £60 million of much needed additional capital funding this financial year," adding that "sustained and increased levels of funding will be required over the next decade to support the Special Educational Needs Capital Investment Programme".

Along with delivering up to eight new schools over the next 10 years, the new SEN Capital Programme will deliver new builds for a number of existing special schools.

It will also include an extension and refurbishment programme for special schools; accommodation for specialist classes in mainstream schools and additional maintenance and equipment funding.

Mr Givan said: "I have put in place an annual £5m maintenance programme for special schools as well as £4m to provide equipment grants to both special schools and schools with specialist provisions, to ensure they have the right resources to support their pupils."

He emphasised "the life-changing impact that a successful special school has on pupils and their families".

"I am therefore also announcing that planning of new build schools for Sperrinview and Knockevin Special Schools will begin immediately, as too will capital planning for the much needed second campus of Ardnashee Special School."

The minister has previously said more than 1,000 children with SEN have been identified as needing a school place in September and the current system was "simply no longer sustainable".