Northern Ireland Assembly
Committee Pleased that Department of Education has Accepted All Recommendations on Special Educational Needs
The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee has welcomed the Department of Education’s (the Department) acceptance of all seven recommendations made in its Report on Impact Review of Special Educational Needs (the Report), published by the Committee on 25 February 2021.
The Report examined the way the Department and the Education Authority (EA) support children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), including those in mainstream schools. The Committee found that there were systemic problems with educational need provision while, at the same time, £1.3 billion had been spent supporting these children, with costs rising each year.
Chairperson of the Committee, William Humphrey MBE MLA said:
“We are pleased that the Department has accepted all of our recommendations on SEN provision.
“While carrying out our investigation we were troubled by the problems with SEN provision and the fact that the Department and EA had failed to address these in the past. We also stressed the importance of ensuring every pound is well spent, in meeting the needs of children who need assistance, whether they have or do not have a statement of SEN.
“The Department has now agreed to our recommendation to undertake an independent review of the EA and an external review of the effectiveness of SEN processes as soon as possible, once funding is in place.
“In addition, we also welcome the Department’s resolve to improve the EA’s performance against the statutory timeframe for assessment and statementing.
“We are pleased to see that the Department is taking our Report and recommendations seriously—we know that in the past not all of our recommendations have been acted on. We will be asking the Department to report back to us in six months’ time, when we hope that significant improvements will have been made.”
Notes to Editors
Read the Public Accounts Committee Report on Impact Review of Special Educational Needs.
The recommendations made by the Committee are:
PAC remains concerned at the number of children that have been failed and how long these failings have been allowed to continue for. In the Committee's view there are elements of dysfunctionality within the EA.
In view of the fact that the EA is in its sixth year, PAC recommends DE should commission an independent review of the EA to assess its effectiveness.
PAC strongly believes that there is a need for an independent, external review of the effectiveness of SEN processes, to help build public confidence.
PAC recommends that there should be an immediate independent, external review of the SEN service provision and processes. This review must be completed promptly and should include:
- an evaluation of all types of SEN support provided by developing benchmarks and collating data to demonstrate the progress made by children;
- an assessment of the impact of adult assistance on children's outcomes, for both primary and post-primary school pupils, to determine when it is the best form of support;
- obtaining an understanding as to why there is a higher proportion of children with SEN and specifically children with a statement of SEN in Northern Ireland compared to England;
- benchmarking SEN services with other jurisdictions to learn from their experiences;
- consideration of the funding of SEN services including the delegation of budgets; and
- assessing the impact of the new Framework coming from the revised Regulations and Code of Practice.
PAC expects DE to implement a rigorous performance monitoring process with greater focus on the EA's performance against the statutory timeframe for assessment and statementing.
PAC is concerned at the extent of the EA Board's oversight, monitoring and challenge of the EA's performance in respect of SEN and also the EA Board's understanding of its role.
PAC recommends that the Board must satisfy itself as to the quality and relevance of the information provided to it. The Committee considers that a Board is failing in its role if it does not challenge performance for key areas such as SEN and where there is a significant operational problem the Committee expects the Board to drill in to it.
PAC considers the absence of reliable information and data in the EA as a key attribute to the poor performance in the delivery of SEN services.
PAC therefore recommends that deficiencies in the management information held by the EA are addressed urgently and that clear performance frameworks are put in place which should include targets for accessing school based SEN support services. In addition, the EA should collate data on the number of children that schools have identified as needing SEN support and are waiting to be referred to the Educational Psychology Service.
Only once there is an evidence base can DE and the EA provide assurances that money is being used to best effect.
PAC recommends that the effectiveness of funding allocated to all stages of the SEN process is reviewed to ensure that every pound is well spent, in meeting the needs of all children, with or without a statement of SEN.
PAC expects decisions made by the EA to be robust and able to withstand challenge. As a matter of urgency the issues leading to the increase in the number of appeals, and the reasoning as to why the EA concede so many, needs to be understood.
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