Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


  Under the terms of the 1986 and 1996 Education (Northern Ireland) Orders the Board has a responsibility to assess and to provide for children with special educational needs.

  It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of the school population have special educational needs. The board makes special provision for about 2 per cent of these children and the remaining 18 per cent are provided for within their own schools, which receive special funding through the Local Management of Schools (LMS) scheme.

  The Board makes special provision for children with special educational needs in 12 special schools, nine special units and one hospital school within the city. Additionally, some children from within the board's area are placed in special provision in other board areas or in special schools or colleges in England.


  The figures below show the annual recurrent expenditure on special schools over a 10-year-period from 1987-88 to 1996-97.

BELB expenditure on special education—final accounts
Teachers' salaries included from 1993-94.
Educational Psychologists' salaries included from 1995-96.

Expenditure on Special Units for 1990-91 to 1996-97

Expenditure on Peripatetic Teachers 1994-95 to 1996-97


  Special Educational Needs funding through the LMS formula in primary and secondary schools is based on transfer procedure results. Schools are funded for pupils who have scored "D" in the transfer procedure or who have opted out of the transfer procedure or who have statements of special educational needs.

  Special needs in nursery schools are funded on the basis of 18 per cent of the school enrolment. Special Educational Needs allocation to nursery, primary and secondary Schools:

    1997-98    £2,319,948

  Funding for social deprivation in nursery, primary and secondary schools is based on the number of pupils on free school meals in each school. Social deprivation allocation to nursery, primary and secondary schools.

    1997-98    £5,887,872


  During the present school year, the Board is making provision for children with special educational needs as follows:

 Present ProvisionAwaiting Placement
Special Schools1,448+50 nursery20+16 nursery
Special Units1507
Other boards (including outside NI)18827
Outreach teaching in mainstream schools44985
Peripatetic Support (mainstream schools)
Specific learning difficulties154105
Hearing Impaired505

  The Board presently has children with statements of special educational needs and undergoing formal assessment as follows:

    Children with Statements of Special Educational Needs — 1,729

    Children currently being formally assessed — 627

  Decisions on whether statements should be made, and on the most suitable school placement, are made by the Board on the basis of the assessment of a child's individual needs.

  When children are first referred to the Board in respect of special educational needs they are assessed by the board's educational psychology service.

  Referrals to the educational psychology service during 1997 were 2,395.

  Whilst it is difficult to estimate future demand, there has been an upward trend in the number of children requiring special educational provision. Most special schools are full and there has been a steady growth in the number of children with severe learning difficulties (mental handicap) over the past 10 years. This is due to an increase in the birth rate of children with these difficulties and improvements in medical practice which have enabled some children, who would have previously died, to survive much longer.

  There is also a constant demand for provision for children with emotional and behaviour problems. Pressures within mainstream schools have increased because of the Northern Ireland Curriculum, publication of results, etc., has encouraged schools to seek their placement elsewhere.

  The SEN Code of Practice will be fully in place in Northern Ireland in September 1998. It is expected that there will be a demand for extra SEN provision through the emphasis on parental rights, parental access to tribunals, early diagnosis of problems and a need for effective intervention.

  As an indicator of future demand, the Audit Commission's statistics for England and Wales show a recorded increase of up to 10 per cent in the number of statements maintained by LEAs over the 2 year period 1994-96. The Belfast Education and Library Board's figures for the same period are as follows:

  Percentage of pupils with statements in Belfast Education and Library Board area:

    1994-95 — 2.51 per cent

    1995-96 — 2.70 per cent

    Increase — 7.56 per cent

  Given that the Code of Practice has not yet been fully implemented in Northern Ireland, it is expected that there will be an increasing demand for both informal assessments and formal assessments leading to statements, as well as a requirement for additional provision for children with special educational needs.

  In England and Wales, also, up to 60 per cent of Tribunal cases have involved children with dyslexia. If parents of dyslexic children become involved in Tribunal cases in Northern Ireland in the same sort of proportion, it could lead to a significant change in the provision for children with this difficulty.


  There have been no representations made to the Board in respect of special educational provision. Inspections of special schools and special units carried out by the Department of Education's Inspectorate give indications of inadequacies in provision and remedial action is taken as appropriate in respect of buildings, facilities and staffing within the available budget allocation. The increasing number of children with severe learning difficulties has been noted and the board has provided additional accommodation in both of its SLD schools and it has also developed a course in the Belfast Institute for Further and Higher Education for older pupils in the 16-19 age group. This course has been funded through EU Peace and Reconciliation monies.

  In order to integrate children with physical disabilities in mainstream schools, the board has provided some primary and secondary schools with ramps, toilets and lifts, as appropriate, so that children in wheelchairs can access the buildings. At present four primary schools, three secondary schools and one grammar school have these facilities.

  The Board's computer system which operates the statementing procedure currently needs to be updated so that all of the requirements of the Code of Practice can be implemented. This will include making the system compatible with other systems within the Board so that more comprehensive statements can be produced within expected time limits.

  Requests from Health and Social Services Trusts for equipment for pupils in schools for children with physical disabilities and severe learning difficulties continue to be met by the Board. As this equipment is ordered/recommended by Health and Social Services staff, there is an unfulfilled expectation that Health and Social Services should at the very least, share this cost.

  There continues to be a shortfall in places for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties. The Board is currently planning to provide a new building for the Jaffe Centre to replace the building burnt down in the summer of 1996. It is expected that this new building will be given priority by the Department of Education.

  The Board has made representations to the Department of Education regarding the need to recognise special education as a demand-led service and to make funds available so that adequate provision can be made for children for whom the Board has statutory responsibility.

  At present, Health and Social Services Trusts are the employers of the speech and language therapists who provide speech and language therapy for children in special schools and special units. Under the terms of the Code of Practice, the Board has the "ultimate" responsibility for making speech and language therapy provision for these children when they require it. It is important that this matter of accountability for speech and language therapy provision is resolved.

  There is also a growing shortage of educational psychologists in Northern Ireland and a need, therefore, to increase the number being trained to meet the requirements of both mainstream and special schools throughout the five Education and Library Boards.


  Both of these encourage more co-operation and liaison between boards and other professionals; parents' rights have been increased and it is expected that more time will be spent trying to reconcile disagreements with parents and defending cases at Tribunals.

  This increase of board/parent/professional/school links will require more contact time and a substantial increase in the time needed to carry out all of the administrative procedures involved in formal assessments.

  Inclusive education requires more resources to be made available in mainstream schools while at the same time maintaining special school provision.

  Mainstream schools will require:

    —  classroom assistants;

    —  additional equipment;

    —  access for wheelchairs;

    —  outreach teaching services;

    —  advisory services for the hearing impaired, visually impaired and the physically disabled;

    —  transport.

  It is expected that parental preference of schools and heightened parental awareness of rights to additional support will give rise to disagreements about:

    —  efficient use of resources;

    —  appropriate education;

    —  discontinuing statements and support.

  It is expected also that there will be an increased demand for:

    —  educational psychology services;

    —  special teaching services;

    —  statementing administration.

  In addition to the above, the Code of Practice will also have implications for the training and staff development needs of schools and boards, especially in respect of diagnostic assessment, record keeping, individual education plans and teaching methods.

  At present there are 609 children awaiting informal assessment within the board's area. The delay in seeing these children is due to a shortage of time available within the psychology service. Schools are allocated psychologists' time according to their size, need and the amount of time available, and they identify their own priorities in terms of the needs of their pupils with guidance from the psychology service.

  In the school year 1996-97 referrals for formal assessment were as follows:

    Parents — 113

    Schools — 269

    Others — 1

  Overall, the Code of Practice and the Children Order will increase the expectations of both parents and school in regard to Board provision and services.

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 19 April 1999