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Charity school seeks £200k help to safeguard its future


03/03/2008 :: Northern Ireland :: The Irish News

The only charity school that caters for children with cerebral palsy needs £200,000 a year to safeguard its future.

The Buddy Bear school is a not-for-profit independent school specialising in conductive education, which uses therapy to teach pupils who have motor neurone disorders.

Conductive education began in Hungary in the late 1940s.

It originated in the works of the Hungarian doctor Andras Peto and is widely established in many countries.

Buddy Bear was set up in 1988 and despite being independent it relies on pupil fees that are paid by the education boards.

The more pupils the school has, the more money it receives.

It has experienced a fall in pupil numbers and says this is because parents do not know it exists.

The school says it needs £200,000 - a tiny fraction of the overall education budget - to survive and expand.

It has won praise for its inspirational work from the US government and also enjoys cross-party support in the assembly.

On Friday a delegation from Buddy Bear presented a case for funding to the Stormont education committee.

The school has also been the focus of a cross-party motion in the assembly.

Education committee de-puty chairman Dominic Bradley said more than 900 children in the north had cerebral palsy and it was "deplorable" that there was no centrally funded special provision for them.

"The Buddy Bear Trust is an outstanding organisation and the school that it operates in Dungannon provides an excellent service to the whole community in Northern Ireland by offering an imaginative conductive form of education," he said.

"We can easily understand why parents want the assembly to support and develop the Buddy Bear school.

"I hope that the first minister and deputy first minister and the minister of education will establish an interim funding arrangement for the school."

Sinn Fein assembly member Francie Molloy told the assembly that children with cerebral palsy were "as entitled to a place in a school as any other child".

"Unfortunately the education and library boards have not been making parents aware that the Buddy Bear school exists, that children can be accepted into it or that conductive education can be beneficial to their children," he said.

"Therefore the boards have sidestepped their responsibility to deliver a quality education service to children with cerebral palsy."

Ulster Unionist assembly member George Savage said parents were convinced that a lack of information about the school had caused the present crisis.

"Boards may argue that they do not have to inform parents about non-grant-aided schools but surely they have a moral duty to give them as much information as possible, particularly as three boards have been paying the fees of children to attend the Buddy Bear school since 1993," he said.



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