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SNAG urges proactive measures to tackle ‘crucial SEND issues’

Photo by Eyleen Gomez

The Special Needs Action Group (SNAG) has called for more proactive measures to address “crucial issues” affecting the special educational needs and disabilities community as it reacted to the Government’s budget.

This includes an increase in disability allowance, adding that it commends the increase in the disability allowance which helps to recognise its potential to provide essential support to those in need.

But SNAG said it hopes that this, together with faster processing times for applications will continue to benefit individuals requiring disability allowance support.

“We appreciate the announcement regarding increased Learning Support Facilities in Lower Primary settings and the Secondary sector,” a spokesman for SNAG said, adding that such provisions are “essential and necessary for all schools”.

However, SNAG called for more clarity on how these provisions will be funded and accounted for, especially considering this year’s apparent stagnancy in the SNLSA (Special Needs Learning Support Assistant) complement despite the increase in Learning Support Facilities.

“SNAG notes concern about potential last-minute staff reassignments, affecting pupils at Early Birds Nursery and St Martins School, and advocates for better planning to provide key information in advance to families and students with Special Educational Needs,” the spokesman said.

“The uncertainty of staff allocation has been one of the reasons quoted as to why the pupils of this school do not yet know who their teachers will be for the next academic term, a fact that impedes the preparation of their transition using the appropriate visual and learning aids, as was the case last year.”

“This lack of clarity in knowing who children will have as their teachers is not felt by pupils of other schools such as Bishop Fitzgerald’s School, to name one example, and a more proactive approach must be adopted to avoid these repeated occurrences in the area of SEND [Special Educational Needs and Disabilities].”

The group welcomed a review of the Education Act, especially in relation to SEND, but asks whether the Government has plans to review the legislation to reflect a Gibraltar SEND code of practice.

This would cover individuals from birth until the age of 25 which incorporates the local equivalent to education, health and care plans, SNAG said.

It added that this will provide a crucial framework to ensure that a child’s support needs are clearly defined, empowering them with all the resources they need to thrive and ensuring that it is all secured within a budget to meet each child’s specific needs.

SNAG highlighted the severe shortage of therapists, particularly Speech and Language Therapists, in the Gibraltars Health Authority (GHA) which in turn affect the Education system in the delivery of therapeutic services via school.

“Ministers cannot ignore this in their Budget addresses,” the spokesman said.

“SNAG urges caution when discussing therapeutic interventions throughout the day, emphasising that access to therapy delivered by qualified GMBR therapists in their specialist fields is limited for children in all schools, leaving many children with ad hoc group sessions at most rather than one-on-one therapy.”

It welcomed the announcement of the resolved issues surrounding hydrotherapy services at St Martins School and expressed hope for a “lasting and comprehensive” service.

But it also urged the Minister for Education to be “cautious” when discussing hydrotherapy in the school “as if it is a service that has been enjoyed by the pupils”.

“The only time this pool has been used was when a photo was taken and distributed to the press, this has been the full extent of hydrotherapy in St Martins School,” the group said.

“SNAG therefore sincerely hopes that in September, a long lasting service is finally up and running, and that the staff to run this service has finally been secured.”

The group welcomed a study on the causes of the increased number of children with special educational needs and disabilities commissioned by Dr Cortes.

The group also welcomed Minister for Equality, Samantha Sacramento’s announcement of a working group to develop a disability register and improve collection.

“SNAG emphasises the need for a proactive approach to address disability and SEND provision and avoid repeating past mistakes due to reactive measures,” the group said.

“Indeed, proactive measures such as these avoid having to expand the footprints of brand-new schools that have been built too small because little data has been collected and no study has been conducted on trends that have now been increasing for years.”

“They would avoid having to find ourselves in a position where we once again must move Early Birds Nursery out of St Martins and into another school as we had to do in the old St Martins School, because the new St Martins is already too small.”

“These trends are not unique to Gibraltar, these trends can be seen in countries all over the world, in data collection and studies that they have now been conducting for several years.”

The Group also called on the Government to adopt the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, to push forward with the Disability Act and to publish the disability and special needs strategy, and has criticised the Government for the lack of clarity on the Autism and ADHD pathways.

“The budget address offered little resolution on these critical matters, leading to disappointment among those who had hoped for more decisive action,” the spokesman said.

“On the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Ms Sacramento basically tells those concerned that we are almost there, but we must wait a little longer, while on the rest there is no mention at all.”

“Minister for Health, Albert Isola, made no reference to Autism or ADHD pathways despite families facing prolonged waiting times for assessments and diagnosis.”

“Whilst the Government resolves these issues, we urge the Government to refer patients to the appropriate specialist teams abroad if they are unable to currently deal with these matters locally, because the waiting times experienced by individuals and their families are simply unacceptable.”

SNAG called for a “bigger and more modern” St Bernadette’s Resource Centre and Dr Giraldi’s care home to reflect the rise in number of children and eventually young people with special educational needs and disabilities.

“There is also a need for bigger and purpose built respite facilities,” the spokesman said.

“We would have hoped that this would have been something that would have been in this year’s budget.”

“We hope that this is something that will be in all of the political parties’ manifestos because it is something that is needed over and above any more luxury buildings and developments.”

“SNAG urges the Government to prioritise the voices of the community and take proactive steps to address the pressing needs of individuals with disabilities and special education needs in Gibraltar.”

“By embracing a proactive approach and working collaboratively with stakeholders, the Government can build an inclusive and supportive environment that empowers everyone to thrive.”

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