Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Report


The Northern Ireland Affairs Committee has agreed to the following Report:—



1. This inquiry is the second in a series of public expenditure enquiries planned for the remainder of the Parliament. The first inquiry[1] examined the annual departmental Report. This, and subsequent inquiries, will examine specific areas of public expenditure in Northern Ireland.

2. Since publication of the Committee's first public expenditure report, the system of governing Northern Ireland has been extensively reformed. The New Northern Ireland Assembly has been elected and is set to assume responsibility for the administration of the public expenditure of the Northern Ireland departments. This Committee's role continues, however, as set out in the Belfast Agreement;[2] it will, as at present, scrutinise the exercise of the responsibilities of the Secretary of State, which include the making of payments into the Northern Ireland Consolidated Fund[3]. The Committee will therefore retain a continuing interest in Northern Ireland public expenditure.

3. The present inquiry examined, from a public expenditure perspective, the adequacy of provision for Special Education Needs in Northern Ireland and the efficiency of arrangements for providing Special Needs education there. In doing so, we looked at the different levels of special educational needs, the assessment procedures used, the types of provision and funding arrangements.

4. There have been two substantial studies of aspects of special education in Northern Ireland in the last year or so. The Department of Education for Northern Ireland (DENI) commissioned an extensive survey from the Special Needs Research Centre of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne to look at current practice in mainstream schools in Northern Ireland with regard to pupils with special educational needs. It submitted its report to the Department in February 1998 and it was published in August 1998.[4] In August 1998, the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland reported on Special Education in Northern Ireland.[5] We have drawn on both documents as appropriate in this Report.

5. Our enquiry took place against a background of steadily increasing expenditure on Special Educational Needs in Northern Ireland. In his report on Special Education in Northern Ireland, the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland noted that there had been an increase of more than 23% over the period 1992-93 to 1996-97 to a figure of £63.7 million.[6] Of this, around two thirds was spent on special schools. The level of resources devoted to special education is expected to continue to rise substantially in real terms over the period to 2001-2.[7]

6. In the course of the enquiry, we took oral evidence on two occasions from the five Education and Library Boards, who are responsible for assessing whether a child has special educational needs and making appropriate educational provision. We also took oral evidence from the four Health and Social Services Boards, who are responsible for providing support in respect of identified medical and social needs[8] and from the Minister responsible, Mr John McFall MP. We also received written evidence from a number of organisations.[9] We are most grateful to all those who gave evidence to us.

7. We also visited two special schools in Harberton Park, Belfast to see their operations at first hand. These were Glenveagh Special School and Harberton Special School. We would like to thank the pupils and staff of both schools for receiving us.

8. We have been ably advised in the course of this enquiry by Dr Rosemary Kilpatrick of the Graduate School of Education, The Queen's University of Belfast. We are most grateful to her for her guidance.

1  First Report, Session 1997-98 (HC 295): Northern Ireland Public Expenditure: Current Plans and Priorities. Back
2  Cm 3883, p. 9 (Strand One, paragraph 33 (c)). Also published in Cm. 4292, p. 19. Back
3  Section 58, Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Northern Ireland Assembly will be responsible for payments out of the Fund. Back
4  Practice in Mainstream Schools for Children with Special Educational Needs: Analytical Report (referred to in this report as "the Dyson Report"). Published as DENI Research Report No. 11, 1998. Back
5  HC898 (1997-98). In this Report, the expression "Comptroller and Auditor General" refers to the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland. Back
6  See HC898 (1997-98), p. 18 and Appendix 1. Back
7  Ev. p. 87. Back
8  Ev. p. 83. Back
9  For a list of those who submitted written evidence, see p. xxviii. Back

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