Northern Ireland Assembly
Committee finds Systemic Problems with Special Educational Needs Programme
The Northern Ireland Assembly’s Public Accounts Committee has released its Report on Impact Review of Special Educational Needs. The Report examines the way the Department of Education (the Department) and the Education Authority (EA) support children with Special Educational Needs (SEN), including those in mainstream schools.
From 2015 to 2020, the Department and the EA spent more than £1.3 billion supporting children with SEN, with costs rising every year.
The Northern Ireland Audit Office carried out a review of SEN practices in 2017 with a further follow-up report in September 2020. This second report found that none of the recommendations made in 2017 had been fully implemented and performance had in fact declined over that time, even though the Department had spent more than £3.6 million on reviewing its practices.
Chairperson of the Committee, William Humphrey MBE MLA yesterday said,
“We have been disappointed to find a culture within the Education Authority that has allowed it to continually deliver a sub-standard service for far too long. These weaknesses have failed both families and children with Special Educational Needs.
“We were surprised to discover that the Education Authority does not know how many children are seeking to access SEN support—in the absence of such data it is impossible to gauge the real demand for services and identify the gaps in provision.”
The Committee was concerned over a Department review that aimed to address issues with SEN provision, including the inconsistencies and delays in identification and assessment. Even though this review has been carried out over 13 years, spending £3.6 million, it still has yet to deliver a result.
William Humphrey yesterday said,
“Given the obvious issues with SEN provision and the fact that the Department and Education Authority have failed to address these over many years, we strongly believe that there is a need for an independent external review of the effectiveness of SEN processes. This is needed not only to ensure that SEN processes are fit for purpose, but also to build confidence in the public and the families who are relying on SEN provision for their children.
“As part of this external review we would like to see an evaluation of all types of SEN support provided, with benchmarking and data collection to demonstrate the progress that children make. We do not know, for example, why there are so many appeals to the Education Authority about SEN statementing, nor why so many are conceded. We would also be keen to know why there are a higher proportion of children with SEN and SEN statements in Northern Ireland, compared to England.”
Mr Humphrey concluded,
“While there is much to do to increase confidence in SEN provision, including ensuring that it provides value for money, we cannot overlook the excellent work provided by those delivering SEN services to children. The dedication of front line staff is exemplary and we can applaud the fact that the educational attainment gap is closing between children with and without SEN.
“We look forward to the Department and the Education Authority taking our recommendations on board and undertaking the serious examination that will improve the service to both children and their families.”
Notes to Editors
In 2019-2020, just under 20 percent of the school population has a reported SEN; this equals 67,224 children. Of those, 19,200 have a Statement of SEN. In 2019-2020, 70 percent of pupils with a Statement of SEN attended mainstream schools.
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