VI. GENERAL CONCLUSIONS
74. It is clear that the Education (Northern Ireland)
Order 1996 and the Code of Practice represent a watershed in special
education provision in Northern Ireland. The Government has recognised
that this will involve significant additional resources, both
for schools (including special schools) and for implementing the
Code of Practice.
It will also require a change of approach to the delivery of education
to children with special educational needs to ensure that there
is compliance with both the spirit and the administrative mechanisms
of the Code.
In changing the approach, it will be important for all concerned
to keep in mind that fact that the overwhelming majority of children
with special educational needs - perhaps as many as nine out of
ten - will have those needs assessed and met outside the statementing
framework and within the resources ordinarily expected to be available
in mainstream schools. We hope, therefore, that very careful consideration
will be given to implementing the recommendations of the Dyson
Report. We consider that an informed debate involving both
service providers and their "customers" - the children
and their parents - would be beneficial.
75. Given the likely growth in the number of statemented
children, at least in the short to medium term, and the limited
capacity of special schools and units, it is likely that an increased
number of these children will be educated in mainstream schools.
The challenge for such schools will be enhanced by the fact that
many of these children are likely to have more profound needs
than such schools have normally faced hitherto. This will need
to be reflected in the funding such schools receive. Greater targeting
of resources where they are needed will be facilitated by our
recommendation that schools take steps to identify expenditure
on meeting special educational needs.
76. Given the likelihood that there will be continued
pressure on resources for meeting special educational needs,
we consider there is a case for ELBs to look closely at their
expenditure on special schools and special units, and at provision
for meeting special educational needs in mainstream schools, to
ensure that resources are deployed to greatest effect. There would
appear to be a good case for according higher priority to capital
expenditure on special schools, where to do so would improve their
capacity to deliver good quality services, and to provide specialist
support to mainstream schools.
77. There is a variation between Boards in the
number of children referred for assessment and in the number of
statements written. The Comptroller and Auditor General has also
drawn attention to a number of other differences between Boards
and with comparable local authorities elsewhere in the United
Kingdom. While we recognise that the reality of such differences,
and that the reasons for their existence are likely to be complex,
we recommend that the ELBs seek to agree common bases for their
definition of assessment of special educational needs and seek
to develop common approaches.
The research we have recommended in paragraph 51 may have a part
to play in this process. As the problems encountered are not unique
to Northern Ireland, there may be scope for drawing on experience
elsewhere in the United Kingdom.
78. While we recognise that there have been many
moves to improve parental involvement and increase their right
to appeal through Tribunals within the field of special educational
needs, there are still many unresolved issues. Recent research
in the Graduate School of Education at Queen's University indicates
that parents frequently feel alienated by the assessment process
and do not feel well enough informed to make a meaningful contribution.
They also complained about the delays in the statementing process
and often did not understand the statement when it eventually
was completed. Furthermore, they perceived a lack of cohesion
in the statementing procedure when both education and health and
social services were involved. We recommend that DENI, the ELBs
and the HSSBs review the scope for improving parental perceptions
of their involvement. A greater attention to this aspect in the
training of the professionals involved might be appropriate.
79. Given the scope and nature of the changes
likely to arise in meeting special educational needs provision
following the introduction of the Code of Practice, we consider
it important that progress should be kept under review. We recommend
that DENI do so, and amend the Code as necessary in the light
of experience. There is also a case for continuing parliamentary
interest in this important and sensitive area.
133 Ev. p. 87. Back
134 See also Q70. Back
135 See paragraph 40 above. Back
136 See for example, Q69. Back
137 See also Q71-2. Back