Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs First Report


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.[133] 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.[134] 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[135], 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,[136] 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.[137] 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

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