Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from the National Deaf blind and Rubella Association (Sense) Northern Ireland


  Sense is the National Deafblind and Rubella Association. We are a UK wide organisation and we provide information, advice and support for people who have sight and hearing impairments, their families and involved professionals. Many of our clients also have additional learning and/or physical difficulties. Sense started in England in 1955 as a parents' support group for families whose children were affected by rubella. A Sense parents' group was set up in Northern Ireland in 1985 and in 1990 the first two staff members were employed. We have now grown to a staff team of over 60 people working with elderly people, adults, adolescents and children who have multi-sensory impairments. Our latest development is to establish a nursery for children with special needs at our Family Centre at Mallusk in north Belfast.


  1. Currently there is a range of provision for children with special needs, including: mainstream, special units, special schools, and support services. From our visits to the SLD schools in particular, we believe that the children with the more severe special needs are being well taught by dedicated staff who are attempting to make the Common Curriculum appropriate to their needs. Children with a single sight or hearing problem, whose needs cannot be met in mainstream, are being well provided for at Jordanstown School for Children with Sight and Hearing Impairments.

  2. A Sense survey of 1996 identified 41 children with dual sensory impairments in the SLD schools. These children require a very specialised approach due to their impaired sight and hearing and additional needs. At present, only the Southern Education and Library Board has set aside funding for an educational advisory service to provide training and support for these children and their staff. Sense provides this service and is well equipped to provide a similar service to the other boards.

  3. There is very limited pre-school provision for young children with special needs. Pre-school provision should be increased to meet the needs of young children in the crucial years when intervention can be most effective in helping to minimise the effects of disabilities. Provision should include supported places in mainstream playgroups and nurseries, as well as specialist early intervention centres for children who need a more specialist input.

  4. In some SLD schools, classes are too large and more staffing is needed in order to meet fully the complex needs of all the children.

  5. The argument that all children should be included within the mainstream system is not realistic for many children with severe, complex or profound special needs. Many children with severe special needs require a specialised approach and equipment, an appropriate setting and trained staff. This level of support often cannot be provided in a mainstream school. Trying to fit all children into mainstream schools, even with support, does not adequately provided for their needs. Children inevitably suffer in inappropriate settings and staff cannot possibly be trained to meet the needs of all children. In America, the trend towards complete inclusion has had to be reversed, as children have suffered and staff specialism has declined. Sense believes that a range of provision should be available to meet the needs of all children.

  6. More specialist training is required for staff working with children who have special needs. Staff working with children who have special needs require access to specialised training courses at the initial stage and during the in-service stage. Funding and secondment opportunities should be made available to encourage teachers and classroom assistants to develop their specialist skills in the various areas of special needs.

  7. There is an ongoing need for summer scheme provision. Children in special schools develop because they have a very strict routine that suits them. A child with profound needs is very stressful to live with, and parents can just about manage whilst the child is at school, but during the nine weeks of the summer holiday, the situation at home can be extremely difficult. During recent years, the summer scheme programme has been cut back to virtually nothing. We believe that a break of three weeks is essential to maintain the child's progress, and to help families to cope.

  8. There is a need to upgrade the adult services available when the children leave school at 19. They will have had 15 excellent years at well resourced schools, with programmes geared to meet their needs. Adult services, although run by very keen staff, cope with large groups of young adults and older people with minimal resources and insufficient staff. The transition from school to adult services, where their needs cannot possibly be met, can be traumatic. We suggest that adult services need to be brought into line with children's services, as these people have special needs which need to be met, no matter what age they are.

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Prepared 19 April 1999