Cerebral Palsy Buddy Bear School funding call as satellite school in Derry mooted

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Derry City and Strabane District Councillors will call for Northern Ireland’s only school for children with cerebral palsy to receive funding.

It follows a deputation to Councillors, at the Health and Community Committee meeting on Tuesday, March 26, by Buddy Bear Trust Founder, Brendan McConville, and Principal of Dungannon’s Conductive Education School, Idiko Veres.

Ms Veres said Conductive Education was a “holistic approach using focused teaching by conductors who are specifically trained as teachers with elements of physiotherapy, speech and language, and Occupational Therapy”.

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“It aims to develop children with motor disorders to enable them to participate fully in mainstream education, and approaches a physical disability from an educational rather than a treatment perspective.

Sinn Féin Councillor Caitlin Deeney.Sinn Féin Councillor Caitlin Deeney.
Sinn Féin Councillor Caitlin Deeney.

“Buddy Bear Trust became a beacon of hope for children and opened the only Conductive Education School in 1993, but, while the Government invested £5 million to train conductors for UK, no one from here lobbied to help our children.”

Ms Veres and Mr McConville urged Council members to sign and support a joint resolution document, which would call upon the Department for Education to “give urgent consideration for the provision of funding for the Buddy Bear Trust School”.

The document also called for the establishment of satellite schools in both Derry and Belfast.

Ms Veres added:

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“ When the school officially opened in 1993 it was registered as an independent Special School because, if you wanted Catholic and Protestant children to attend the same school, it had to be independent.

“Unfortunately the Education Authority is not duty-bound to tell parents the school exists, and at the minute we have four children that we get fees for and the rest is [funded] through fundraising, volunteers, and trustees. That’s been going on since 1993.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Caitlin Deeney said her party would be happy sign the document and “bring any of the concerns to our MLAs”.

“We believe all children have the right to an education and to the best possible start in life, and it’s obvious that conductive education works wonders,” Councillor Deeney said.

“As a teacher your focus on a holistic, inclusive approach is so important. This is so needed in schools at the minute.”

SDLP Councillor Lilian Barr said it was “really disheartening” that the school was struggling to find funding.

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“This is a common theme where we’re not looking after people with additional needs in this country,” Councillor Barr said. “And I really hope that will change, because these children are a blessing.”

Sinn Féin Councillor Aisling Hutton said the school was a “prime example of how to build resilience in any child”.

Andrew Balfour

Local Democracy Reporter