Memorandum from Mencap (Northern Ireland
PUBLIC EXPENDITURE IN NORTHERN IRELAND: SPECIAL
In its response, Mencap draws attention to the
following issues and concerns:
special educational needs in Northern
Irelandexperience of children with a learning disability;
inclusion and integration;
targeting social needs: educational
disadvantage experienced by children with severe learning difficulties;
administration of medication, children
who are tube-fed;
children with speech and communication
needs and behavioural needs;
education during the summer months;
Mencap will be delighted to discuss any aspect
of the response.
1.1 Mencap is a voluntary organisation with
over 50 years experience of working alongside and representing
the interests of children and adults with a learning disability,
their families and carers.
1.2 Mencap in Northern Ireland runs pre-school
nursery for 58 children with a learning disability. It works closely
with education and health professionals, facilitating and contributing
to the educational statementing process and helping each child
achieve their potential.
1.3 Through its employment placement service,
Pathway, Mencap supports young people with a learning disability
in the area of vocational guidance and training, working closely
with staff in Special Schools, Colleges of Further Education and
Education and Library Boards.
1.4 Mencap's Family Adviser Service provides
information and support to people with a learning disability and
their families on a range of issues including educational choices,
opportunities and processes.
1.5 This Response draws on Mencap's experience
of special education needs informed by the views and concerns
expressed by parents, and people with a learning disability in
2. SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL
2.1 It is estimated that 2 per cent of the population
have a learning disability (formerly known as mental handicap).
Most children with a learning disability will have a statement
of special educational needs, outlining the difficulties they
have in learning. Some children with a learning disability attend
their local mainstream school; most, however, attend a special
school, usually travelling many miles outside their local community
to do so.
2.2 The experience of people with a learning
disability is in a sense unique, although the extent to which
it differs from peer group norms depends on the degree and type
of disability and on family circumstances. The right to education,
for example, was only extended to children with a learning disability
in Northern Ireland with the implementation of the Education (NI)
Order 1987. Prior to this, children with a learning disability
were thought to be ineducable. Children over the age of 11 years,
therefore, have not experienced the same access to education as
children without a learning disability of a similar age. Most
people with learning disability over the age of 30 in Northern
Ireland have never been to school. The majority of children with
a learning disability leave school without any formal qualificationsnot
because of any shortcomings in the schools they go to, but because
there are no national curriculum exams geared to their needs.
2.3 Children with a learning disability are
likely to be identified as having severe learning difficulties.
To ensure that children, young people and adults
with severe learning difficulties have equal access to and benefit
from education, there is a need for early identification of needs
and specification of how these needs are to be met; appropriately
trained teachers, appropriate methodologies and resources, an
appropriate curriculum and appropriate means of measuring and
recording progress, continuing education opportunities for adults
who were excluded from the school system and those who, as slow
learners, are still learning in the post school years.
2.4 Mencap welcomes the Green Paper debate on
special education needs.
It calls for the adoption in Northern Ireland
of the findings and recommendations of the Learning Difficulties
and/or Disabilities Committee report Inclusive Learning
(known as The Tomlinson Report). In particular, Mencap draws attention
to the Audit Instrument used in the report.
Mencap suggests, too, that close attention is
paid to recent UK initiatives on developing curricula and standards
appropriate to a range of abilities and ways of learning.
3. INCLUSION AND
3.1 Mencap supports the concept of inclusive
educationwhich means that everyone, child or adult, should
have life-long access to education, appropriate to their needs
3.2 Access requires respect for the individual's
way of learning, and requires suitable curricula, methodologies,
teaching materials (including information technology) and teaching
3.3 Often, inclusive education can be delivered
in inclusive classes, schools and colleges and Mencap favours
this approach. Where this is not full inclusion, partial integration
remains educationally and socially useful. Currently, however,
for some children and adults with severe learning difficulties
special schools and colleges continue to play an important role.
3.4 Mencap believes that inclusion should happen,
preferably with integration in education, training, etc., but
through separate provision where this can be shown to be necessary.
The required outcome is that everyone gets the opportunity and
support appropriate to their needs.
4. TARGETING SOCIAL
4.1 Mencap acknowledges the link between educational
achievement and social deprivation. It welcomes the introduction
of recent initiatives which aim to overcome social and economic
4.2 It is extremely concerned, however, that
the educational disadvantage experienced by children, young people
and adults with severe learning difficulties is not recognised.
It is equally disappointed that priority has
not been accorded to redressing this form of educational disadvantage.
4.3 By focusing attention on economic and geographical
areas of disadvantage, recent educational policies and initiatives
have failed to take into account the specific and distinct experiences
of people with severe learning difficulties. Indeed, these policies
and initiatives are in danger of excluding children with severe
learning difficulties from equal access and benefit from their
Children with severe learning difficulties,
for example, are less likely to attend their local nursery, school,
5. SHORTFALL IN
5.1 Administration of medication, children who
5.1.1 Fear of litigation if something "goes
wrong" means that schools are increasingly reluctant to administer
essential medication or to volunteer to undertake tube feeding
5.1.2 The absence of policies which clarify
training, support and insurance issues is leading to the disruption
of education for some children with special educational needs,
compounding the disadvantage they experience.
5.1.3 It is essential that a closer working
relationship exists between education and health and personal
"social services" professionals.
5.1.4 The growing number of children with severe
and multiple disabilities surviving into adolescence and adulthood
clearly imposes new challenges on educational authorities in schools,
Boards and the Department as each aims to meet an individual's
right to education.
5.15 It is essential that educational authorities
in schools, Boards and the Department recognise and embrace the
right of children with severe and multiple disabilities to education,
securing for each equal access and equal benefit to education,
appropriate to their needs and potential.
5.2 Children with speech and communication needs
and behavioural needs
5.2.1 Over the past number of years, Mencap
has been aware that an increasing number of children attending
its pre-school nursery have extensive speech and communication
difficulties and/or behavioural difficulties. It is aware of growing
waiting lists in operation for children needing to attend diagnostic
units or special schools. Clearly the pressures on the educational
services is hindering the access of children to the education
5.2.2 Mencap remains concerned that the position
of communication (speech/language) as an educational need remains
Mencap believes that it is an educational need
which should be guaranteed.
5.2.3 It is essential that educational professionals
work more closely with health and social services' professionals
to ensure that children get the support they need.
5.3 Education during the summer months
5.3.1 Children with severe learning difficulties
are likely to have greater difficulty than other children their
age in learning new things. This does not mean that they cannot
learn, but that difficulties with understanding, memory, attention
span, etc., makes learning much more difficult.
5.3.2 Holiday periods, particularly the long
summer break, make it very difficult for children who require
additional learning time and support or who benefit from the learning
5.3.3 Mencap believes that Summer Schools should
operate during summer months for children with severe learning
difficulties, allowing each child the extra time and support they
need to reach their individual targets for learning and increasing
the opportunities they have to enjoy learning in a fun environment.
5.4 Teacher Training
5.4.1 Mencap stresses the importance of having
appropriately trained teachers with specific qualifications in
teaching children with severe learning difficulties.
5.4.2 Teacher training also needs to pay attention
to different methodologies and resources and to developing an
appropriate curriculum and appropriate means of measuring and
recording progress if children with severe learning difficulties
are to have equal access to, and benefit from, education.
5.5.1 Young people with severe learning difficulties,
like other young people, require education that will prepare them
for their lives beyond full-time educationfor work, for
recreation, for adult life. Link courses between schools and colleges
are essential if students with severe learning difficulties are
to successfully transfer from a small special school, special
unit or mainstream school, to a much larger college.
5.5.2 Greater attention too should be paid to
career guidance and support, aimed specifically at children with
severe learning difficulties.
5.5.3 In an increasingly complex educational
system, forward planning across the period of transition is particularly
Mencap believes that transitional plans, which
should take place after the first review following the young person's
fourteenth birthday, have not always been given the attention
they deserve. There is some evidence, however, that the situation
is starting to improve, largely because of the implementation
of the Education (NI) Order 1996.
5.6 Post school education
5.6.1 Mencap strongly urges the examination
and adoption of the findings and recommendations of the Learning
Difficulties and/or Disabilities Committee report, Inclusive
Learning known as the Tomlinson report. The report gives many
recommendations on how the quality and range of further education
available to people with learning difficulties and disabilities
can be improved. In particular, the report looks at how people
learn most effectively.
5.6.2 In Mencap's experience there is much benefit
from extending the educational experience of people with a learning
disability beyond the statutory age. Careful consideration needs
to be given to where an individual's needs can be met in school,
further education, etc. Young people with severe learning difficulties
need to be fully involved in decisions made about their education.
5.6.3 Mencap is particularly concerned that
equal access and benefit are secured for young people with profound
and multiple disabilities.
Research which led to the publication of the
Inclusive Learning report found that this group of students were
not currently accessing education provision.
5.7 Life-Long Learning
5.7.1 The fact that most adults with severe
learning difficulties will not have been to school underlines
the need to promote and actively pursue access to life-long learning
opportunities for people with severe learning difficulties.
5.7.2 The fact, too, that people with severe
learning difficulties are further disadvantaged through the lack
of post-school learning opportunities, difficulties with transport
and with obtaining information in a way that is accessible demonstrates
the importance of redressing this situation.
5.7.3 The negotiation with the person with a
learning disability to determine what, how and why they wish to
learn particular skills or acquire certain knowledge is the key
to good quality education throughout life.
6. RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
6.1 See points 5.1, 5.2 above.
7. PARENTS AS
7.1 Parents of children with severe learning
difficulties are a key source of information about their child's
means of communication, their way of learning, etc. Mencap works
closely with the parents of children attending its pre-school
nursery. In its experience, parents can play a very valuable role,
reinforcing and supporting what their child has learnt during
7.2 Mencap believes that parents should be viewed
as equal partners in the education of their child. In Mencap's
experience, however, parents often feel isolated from the educational
process, fearful of asking questions, or contributing to discussions
about their child's special educational needs in case this is
viewed as challenging the authority of educational professionals
in the school and Education and Library Board.
Parents' feelings of isolation and fear are
increased by the following:
the fact that initial assessment
with respect to a statement of special educational needs may take
place at a time when parents may be coming to terms with having
a child with severe learning difficulties;
parents do not have a right to choose
a school for their child, the educational needs of their child
have to be balanced against the needs of other children in a class
and the decision made by the Board has to take into account the
resource implications of any decision.
7.3 Mencap believes that it is essential that
education authorities in Northern Ireland view parents as equal
partners in the education of their child, pro-actively encouraging
and supporting parents to ask questions and contribute to discussions
about their child's educational future.
acknowledging and taking active steps
to redress the educational disadvantage experienced by children,
young people and adults with severe learning difficulties;
greater recognition needs to be given
to the right of children with severe and multiple disabilities
to education, securing for each child equal access to and equal
benefit of education, appropriate to their needs and potential;
exploring, with a view to adoption
by education bodies throughout Northern Ireland, the work of initiatives
looking at different ways to learn, developing curricula and standards,
career guidance support, etc., thus improving access to educational
opportunities by people with severe learning difficulties;
closer working relationships between
education and health and personal social services professionals;
appropriately trained teachers with
specific qualifications in teaching children with severe learning
recognising parents as equal partners
with the education authorities in the educational development
of their child;
involving young people and adults
with severe learning difficulties in decisions about their educational
3 April 1998