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Special needs school forced to use gym as a classroom

A lack of facilities at a special needs school in Letterkenny has forced teachers to close the gym and turn it into a classroom.

The drastic step has been taken by teachers at Little Angels School which caters for 100 young people with autism, moderate to severe learning difficulties and for children with complex medical needs.

Little Angels currently has five indoor classrooms but much of the education takes place in 14 prefab buildings. Teachers are awaiting the arrival of a new prefab and in its absence children are being taught in the school gym.

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School principal Ailbhe Dunne said it was “really difficult” to find space and that teachers were having to be “very creative” with the little room they have.

“We have five classrooms inside the school and the rest are prefabs,” said the school principal.

“We currently have 14 prefabs and we are awaiting the arrival of another one. While we are waiting for that new prefab we have had to close our gym because we needed it for a classroom.”

The lack of facilities at Little Angels has been repeatedly highlighted. In April Deputy Pat the Cope Gallagher raised the “urgent need” for a new school building with Minister for Education Joe McHugh.

Plans for a new build recently took a significant step forward with the school’s Board of Management being given the go ahead to put out a call to contractors interested in taking the project on. They will draw up a shortlist and say they hope to have a contractor appointed late next year.

In the meantime however teachers will have to continue in cramped conditions where physical and occupational therapists have to share room with other school staff and where it is difficult to accommodate children in wheelchairs and those with physical needs.

Ms Dunne said the move towards drawing up a shortlist of contractors was “most definitely a step in the right direction”.

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The new school will have 24 classrooms as well as therapy rooms, office space and meeting rooms.

Ms Dunne said one big advantage will be that teachers will be able to invite parents in more often, something which is difficult at the moment due to the lack of space.

“We have 43 special needs assistants, 21 teachers and 100 pupils. If we all gather for assembly, it means we can’t invite parents because we can all just about squeeze in ourselves,” said the principal.

Describing plans for a new school as “light at the end of the tunnel”, Ms Dunne added, “We are all looking forward to being under the one roof and to having good sized classrooms in which we can move around in.

“A new school will be massive for us and it has come about because of the hard work of the previous principal Angela Keane, her deputy Margaret Kennedy and the previous board of management. They started this process back in 2011.”

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