Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Report



42. The special educational needs of a school age child are met in one of three main ways:[63]

  • education in a special school

  • education in a special unit attached to a mainstream school

  • education in a mainstream school.

43. The preferred option is education in a mainstream school, and all children with special educational needs but who are not statemented are normally so educated. There is a statutory presumption in favour of a mainstream placement for statemented children,[64] particularly those with mild sensory, physical or educational problems,[65] provided that the placement is appropriate to the child's needs, compatible with the interests of other children already in the school, and represents an efficient use of the resources of the ELB.[66]

44. Meeting special needs requirements in mainstream schools is not without difficulty, in that additional burdens may be imposed on those schools, both in educational and resource terms. In the case of statemented children, additional equipment, sensory aid and classroom staff are provided as specified in the statement.[67] In the case of non-statemented children, Targeting Social Need (TSN) money provides, through the LMS funding formulae, a mechanism for targeting additional funds on schools facing the greatest problems of social and economic disadvantage, allocated on the basis of proxy formulae and not specific needs assessment.[68] Attempts are being made by the Government to improve the targeting of TSN funds more accurately on schools with the greatest number of needy pupils.

45. The five ELBs have different methodologies for funding special needs in mainstream schools.[69] However, it seems as if it is not at present possible to identify funds which are provided through allocations to mainstream schools for the purpose of meeting special educational needs, or resources for the School Improvement Programme.[70] DENI's current thinking is that special educational needs for non-statemented pupils are best addressed by a formula which combines social need allocations based on free school meals and educational need allocations based on assessment outcomes,[71] but full details have not yet been determined.

46. Our predecessors reported[72] in February 1997 on underachievement in Northern Ireland secondary schools and reached a number of conclusions about school funding and social disadvantage, and TSN funding in particular.[73] In its response[74] in July 1997, the Government reported that it had received a consultants' report on TSN methodology and, in particular, dealing with two separate, but inter-related, strands of the policy - social deprivation and special educational need. The Government agreed that more should be done to monitor how targeted resources are used and to evaluate their impact on pupils with social and educational needs. We recommend that the Government take the opportunity of its response to this Report to state what progress it has made in this area.

47. The Comptroller and Auditor General recommended that schools should account separately for the expenditure of that part of their delegated budget intended for special educational needs. Given that schools are now required to state in their annual reports their policy with regard to provision for special educational needs, we believe they should also be required to publish details of how they have used that part of their delegated budget intended to be spent in this area.[75] Quantification of expenditure would provide an objective basis for future allocations, and remove the need for indirect formulae such as that referred to above.

48. One area of particular concern to mainstream schools relates to pupils with emotional or behavioural difficulties, who may disrupt the education of other pupils at the school. The ELBs drew attention to the shortage of provision for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties.[76] DENI told us[77] of measures it proposed to take to tackle this through the Schools Improvement Programme. We were also told that the Education and Training Inspectorate was studying existing provision made by mainstream schools. Its report will identify good practice and provide a basis for further development.

49. As we have noted earlier, the number of statemented children has grown by over 50% since 1990-91.[78] The evidence shows that boys are nearly twice as likely to be statemented as girls.[79] The Comptroller and Auditor General's report demonstrated a marked variance in the incidence of statements between the five ELBs, ranging from 1.8% for the North Eastern Board to 3.8% for the South Eastern Board.[80] In 1996, 6,560 children were referred for formal special educational needs assessment, an increase of about 40% on the 1993 figure.[81] There is some evidence that the number of requests for statutory assessment will rise further.[82]

50. According to the Comptroller and Auditor General, these statementing rates are, with the exception of the South Eastern Board, significantly lower than for local authorities in Great Britain with broadly comparable populations.[83] This is despite the relatively higher reported incidence of certain medical conditions in Northern Ireland compared to other UK regions.[84]

51. The rise in the overall level of statementing, the difference between the sexes in statementing rates and the apparent difference in statementing rates between Northern Ireland and elsewhere in the United Kingdom suggest to us that some fundamental questions need to be asked about the purpose of statementing and the efficacy of the provision subsequently made. Mr Manning of DENI described[85] the factors apparently behind the greater propensity for boys to be statemented, but added that there is no evidence to suggest that, at age 11, girls who are not statemented are significantly further behind and thus are not disadvantaged by not being statemented. Mr O'Loane[86] and Mr McCullough[87] drew attention to the possibility that the lower incidence of statements in Northern Ireland might be influenced by the extent of provision at Stage 3. This suggests to us that there is a need to seek to establish, as far as possible, common criteria on the purpose and aims of statementing.[88] We recommend that the Government commission appropriate research. Without such benchmarks, it is not possible to assess with any confidence the effectiveness of the considerable level of public expenditure involved.

52. The Comptroller and Auditor General also expressed concern about the variations in the levels of statementing, which he considered might reflect a lack of consistent criteria for identifying pupils with special educational needs, or different interpretations of the definition of special educational needs. We recommend that the Comptroller and Auditor General's recommendations designed to improve consistency be carefully studied.[89]

Special Schools

53. The majority of statemented children continue to be educated in special schools,[90] DENI told us[91] that these special schools are now operating at or close to their physical capacity, despite a growing tendency for parents to express a preference for mainstream education for their children.[92] In addition to providing educationally appropriate provision for children with the most acute needs, special schools provide valuable outreach support to mainstream schools, to assist in areas such as speech and language problems, dyslexia or behavioural difficulties.[93]

54. Despite the lack of spare capacity in special schools, and the expected growth in demand for their services, capital projects for such schools fall into the lowest category attracting priority for planning purposes.[94] The majority of these schemes are for replacement of existing accommodation and so will have only a marginal effect on the overall enrolment capacity of the sector. Other factors being equal, the Department has endeavoured to include at least one special school in each year's new starts programme. Over the period 1992-93 to 1996-97, capital expenditure on special schools has ranged between 5% and 9% of the overall capital expenditure on schools.[95]

55. Although DENI maintains that the level of accommodation and equipment provision in the majority of special schools and special units is "satisfactory or better",[96] significant accommodation needs remain. Nearly one third of special schools (15 out of 47) are described as having a high incidence of small or temporary classrooms and a further nine schools are regarded as having poor accommodation.[97]

56. There would appear to be a case for extending training for teachers in special schools. Evidence from the HSSBs[98] indicates that there are circumstances where it might be appropriate to broaden the range of teachers' skills and experience. We therefore recommend that DENI reviews the current scope and extent of training for teachers in special schools and takes steps to ensure that adequate funds are available to ELBs for in-service training in this area. We also recommend that school inspections specifically include an assessment of the current state of staff training.

Human Resources


57. The Code of Practice provides for the designation of a teacher in all mainstream schools as SENCO, to be responsible for:[99]

  • the day-to-day operation of the school's SEN policy;

  • responding to requests for advice from other teachers;

  • co-ordination of SEN provision, including, in secondary schools, ensuring appropriate liaison with the various teachers who will teach any given child with special educational needs;

  • maintaining an SEN register, with records on pupils with special educational needs;

  • liaison with parents of children with special educational needs;

  • establishing the SEN in-service training requirements of the staff, and contributing as appropriate to their training;

  • liaison with external agencies.

The SENCO therefore plays a central role in the assessment and meeting of pupils' special educational needs.

58. Mrs McClenaghan, Chief Executive of the Southern ELB, described[100] the training of SENCOs in her area. Mr Irwin, of the North Eastern ELB, referred to SENCOs as "a key resource"[101] and pointed out[102] the need to ensure appropriate training also for both Principals and Governors. Mr Manning, of DENI, stated[103] that one of the objectives of the Department was to encourage ELBs in their SENCO training to ensure that the status and the time allocated to SENCOs is commensurate with the difficulties of the job.

59. It is clear to us that the success or otherwise of a mainstream school's SEN policy will stand or fall on the competence and commitment of the SENCO. It is therefore vital that schools select their SENCO with particular care and ensure that they receive appropriate training. The Dyson Report emphasised the contribution to be made by in-service training in this respect. We understand that there is likely to be pressure to extend the duration of training for SENCOs. While we note Mr Manning's assurance that the withdrawal of funding for award-bearing in-service courses has not, as had been feared, depressed demand,[104] we hope that DENI will take steps to ensure that appropriate funding arrangements are in place to ensure that lack of funding does not discourage potential trainees. We welcome the ring-fenced resources[105] which DENI is providing for training, including SENCO training, which is designed to have a significant impact on the quality and status of SENCOs within schools. We believe that the introduction of the Code of Practice means that teachers generally, and not just SENCOs, will need greater training in special educational needs, not least because of the likely increase in the number of children with such needs placed in mainstream schools. We recommend the continued provision of ring-fenced training resources in this area.


60. As Mr Jackie Fitzsimons, Chief Executive of the South Eastern ELB, told us,[106] the role of the educational psychologist is a key one in the assessment process, coming in at Stage 3. Mr O'Loane, Chairman of the Inter-Board Special Educational Group of the ELBs, expressed similar views.[107] The introduction of the Code has increased the workload of educational psychologists, but there are insufficient educational psychologists in post and, according to Mr Fitzsimons, insufficient educational psychologists being trained. Mr McFall estimated the shortage at about 30 over the next three years.[108] This shortage is not unique to Northern Ireland.[109]

61. The current annual level of training places in Northern Ireland is six,[110] so, even with no allowance for retirements and wastage, there is a significant shortfall in provision. The problem will also be compounded by recommendations from the British Psychological Society that the training programme be extended from one to three years, starting in September 2001. We understand that Queen's University has the capacity to increase significantly the number of funded trainees it could accommodate on the course in each of the next two years. This could alleviate, but not eliminate, the current shortage.

62. We are pleased that Mr McFall saw the need to remedy the current shortage of educational psychologists as an urgent issue[111] and that he proposes to have discussions with both the University and the ELBs. We recommend that these discussions include the scope for increasing the teaching and training resources with a view to seeking to eliminate the shortage in this key function as soon as is practicable. He is also inviting the ELBs to devise an action programme to include measures which will both expand the post-graduate intakes and make training arrangements more attractive to serving teachers.[112]

63. We consider it important that the opportunity to train as an educational psychologist should be available to as wide a pool of applicants as possible. In particular, we consider there is a good case for attracting teachers with a greater degree of experience. Mr McFall cited to us the case of a teacher who had made substantial financial sacrifices to train in this area.[113] We have seen suggestions that the present level of funding of Temporary Employment Contracts[114] may be a deterrent to applicants, particularly more experienced teachers. We understand that in Scotland there has recently been a move to increase significantly the value of Temporary Employment Contracts to address this problem there. We recommend that the value of such contracts in Northern Ireland be reviewed.


64. Particular attention has been drawn to a shortage of speech and language therapists in Northern Ireland. Speech and language therapy is a key element in meeting special educational needs. The shortage in Northern Ireland reflects a wider recruitment and retention problem throughout the United Kingdom, but is complicated by two factors. The first is that a significant number of graduates take jobs in Great Britain, where their services are also in demand. The second is that a number of students from the Republic of Ireland train in Northern Ireland and return home to work following graduation.[115]

65. We recommend that steps be taken to seek to improve the recruitment and retention of speech and language therapists in Northern Ireland. We note that the Department of Health and Social Services is seeking to update the methodology for identifying needs in terms of manpower planning in partnership with HSSBs and Trusts. We look to the Secretary of State, in responding to this Report, to indicate how it is intended to tackle the recruitment and retention problems.

Relations between ELBs and HSSBs

66. Although the statutory responsibility for assessing a child's special educational needs rests with the ELB, the assessment itself is likely to require medical, psychological and social services inputs. Some of these are necessarily provided by other agencies. Likewise, non-education provision may be required, such as speech and language therapy in certain circumstances.[116] The relationship between the ELBs and the appropriate HSSBs are therefore a key element in both assessments and programmes to meet the identified needs of a statemented child, and, in some cases, non-statemented children.

67. The responsibilities of the HSSBs in respect of children are, of course, far broader than simply in respect of those with actual or potential special educational needs; such children may constitute only some 10% of children with special needs within the meaning of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order 1995.[117] The Eastern HSSB cited budget constraints as a reason for delays in therapy assessments and treatments.[118] The Western HSSB commented that by far the majority of children seen for selective medical examination in school are those with special educational needs but without statements.[119] Each of the HSSBs has provided in its written submissions[120] detailed information on how it seeks to work with the appropriate ELBs to assess and meet special educational needs.

68. In November 1998,[121] the five HSSBs and the four ELBs signed an Interagency Agreement on the provision of education, health and social services to children with special educational needs. The Agreement is to be reviewed in 12 months. Its purpose is to lay down very broad principles and the intention is to get down to specifics in the intervening period.[122] Mr Martin Bradley, Chief Nurse, Western HSSB, identified[123] a range of areas where progress might be made, including greater standardisation of training and in the assessment and identification of need.

69. HSSB representatives also described progress being made towards greater use of multi-disciplinary assessments, particularly given the interactions between obligations under the Education Order and the Children Order.[124] However, HSSB witnesses were concerned that the Code should not be seen as a panacea:[125] a number of factors, such as recruitment and retention problems in certain fields and the need to avoid excessive medical work in schools, needed to be taken into account.

70. On the question of conflict between the legal obligation of ELBs to provide therapies included on a statement of special educational needs and the capacity of HSSBs who are the service providers, Dr Hannigan of the Northern HSSB agreed that there was a potential conflict,[126] but maintained that the arrangements do work at present. However, she added that: ".....if the code of practice is adhered to and the ethos of inclusion and provision for these children is made in mainstream schools, that may well change because the demands on services, as we know, are under pressure at the moment and this has been identified as an additional pressure which we would find very hard to meet....".

71. Dr Hannigan also pointed out that ELBs have, in the past, advocated the transfer to them of funding for speech and language therapy in particular.[127] She conceded that there may be certain advantages to that from the point of view of the ELB, but listed a number of potential disadvantages seen from the child's perspective, including duplication of effort with the work of the HSSB under the Children Order. It might be possible for ELBs to purchase additional therapy from other sources such as health and special services trusts, for which Dr Hannigan pointed out there was a precedent in Scotland. However, given the overall difficulties of recruitment and retention of speech therapists, she considered that this approach would not be without its own problems.[128] Mr McCulloch, of the Belfast ELB, had indicated that any such transfer would involve ELBs taking on "something where there was not sufficient funding available currently in the system".[129] AFASIC Northern Ireland, however, considered that ELBs should be given additional money to purchase these services from HSSBs.[130]

72. We welcome the conclusion of the Interagency Agreement for the provision of education, health and social services to children with special educational needs. We hope this will provide a catalyst for improved service provision to children with special needs. In their evidence to us, both ELBs and HSSBs have described details of the ways in which they work together to meet the needs of the child. Given the collective constraints of both human and financial resources, we look to the Boards to build on their experience when they review the operation of the Agreement later this year.

73. We believe, though, that both HSSBs and ELBs may need collectively to work together more closely in meeting parental expectations for services. The evidence we have received from organisations involved with parents of children with special educational needs suggests that they perceive there to be a considerable shortfall both in service provision and in co-ordination between ELBs and HSSBs. Mr McCullough, of the Belfast ELB, pointed out that some parents make representations that their children are receiving inadequate therapy levels.[131] Dr Hannigan conceded that, if the health professionals did not adequately provide therapy, it was the ELB, not the HSSB, that would be the subject of proceedings before the SEN Tribunal.[132] As the Interagency Agreement states, the HSSBs and ELBs believe that through collaborative work more effective use can be made of the available resources and best long term effect can be gained for children. We hope that they will pay full regard to parental concerns in this respect, and seek to draw on the expertise of organisations with particular interest in, and experience, of assisting children with special educational needs.

63  A small number of children with special educational needs are educated otherwise than at school, for example, at home by peripatetic teachers. See also paragraph 29 above. Back
64  Ev. p. 84. See also Ev. p. 78. Back
65  Ev. p. 81. Back
66  See also Ev. p. 9. Back
67  Ev. p. 81. Back
68  Ev. p. 77-8. DENI has no information, though, as to whether any correlation exists between the proportion of statemented children in a school and the proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals (Ev. p. 84). Back
69  HC898 (1997-98), Appendix 4. Back
70  Ev. p. 87. Back
71  Ev. p. 85. Back
72  Second Report from the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Session 1996-97, HC79. Back
73  HC79 (1996-97), paras. 62 to 82. Back
74  Cm. 3705. Back
75  The Code of Practice (para. 2.9) requires the annual report of the Board of Governors of each grant-aided school to provide information on 'SEN resource allocation over the year'. See also Q94. Back
76  Q16. See also Q89. Back
77  Ev. p. 82. Back
78  Ev. p. 78. Back
79  Ev. p. 86. See also Q85-86. Back
80  HC898 (1997-98) p. 26. Back
81  Ev. p. 81. Back
82  See, for example, Ev. p. 9. Back
83  HC898 (1997-98) p. 25-6. Back
84  Ev. p. 77. Back
85  Q86. Back
86  Q69. Back
87  Q73. Back
88  See also paragraph 34 above. Back
89  HC898 (1997-98), p. 26-28. Back
90  The number educated in special schools has risen from 3,800 in 1990-91 to 4,680 in 1996-97 (Ev. p. 78). Back
91  Ev. p. 78, 81. Back
92  Over the period 1990-91 to 1996-97, there has been an almost threefold growth in the number of statemented children educated in mainstream schools (Ev. p. 78). See also Q87. Back
93  Ev. p. 79. Back
94  Ev. p. 80. Back
95  Ev. p. 80. See also Q100. Back
96  Ev. p. 80.  Back
97  Ev. p. 81. Back
98  For example, Q121, 134. Back
99  Para 2.12. Back
100  Q74. Back
101  Q76. Back
102  Q75. Back
103  Q113. Back
104  Q112. Back
105  Q113. Back
106  Q64. Back
107  Q77. Back
108  Q89. See also Q49, 77. Back
109  Q106. Back
110  Q89. Back
111  Q89. Back
112  Q106. Back
113  Q89. Back
114  Temporary Employment Contracts are a means of providing financial support to students on courses such as these. Back
115  Q130. Back
116  Speech and language therapy may be regarded as either educational or non-educational, depending upon the health or development history of the child. See Code of Practice, para. 4.27. Back
117  Q119. See also Ev. p. 113. Back
118  Ev. p. 104. Back
119  Ev. p. 114. Back
120  Ev. p. 102 to 130. Back
121  Q120. Back
122  Q121. Back
123  Q123. Back
124  Q126-8. Back
125  Q132-5. Back
126  Q140. Back
127  Q140. Back
128  Q140. Back
129  Q26. Back
130  Appendix 12, p. 160. Back
131  Q26-7. Back
132  Q141-2. See also Q110. Back

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