Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


  The Board has a statutory duty to identify, assess and make provision for pupils with special educational needs. The Education (NI) Order 1996 defines the terms "special educational needs" and "special educational provision" but these definitions require further clarification as they are open to a variety of interpretation.

  For Education and Library Boards, the new legislation and the Code of Practice requires the following six new issues to be taken into account when identifying and assessing special educational needs:

    —  It becomes a statutory right for parents to express a preference as to the child's school.

    —  There are new rights of appeal for parents.

    —  An independent Tribunal of three people now handles appeals with the chair having a legal qualification.

    —  Schools and Boards have to draw up a special educational needs policy and keep it under review.

    —  The statutory assessment procedure will be subject to time limits.

    —  There will be a five staged approach to the assessment of, and provision for, pupils with special educational needs. Stages one to three are school based, with close involvement of the Board at stage three; at stage four, the Board considers the need for a statutory assessment and carries it out if appropriate. At stage five the Board considers the needs for a statement.

  Points i to iv took effect on 1 January 1998 while points v and vi come into force on 1 September 1998. These new features will place additional pressures on the financial resources of the Board and schools. The Board welcomes the additional resources being made available by DENI. However it notes that most of the additional finance is earmarked for schools and did not initially take into account the demands being placed on the existing special educational needs provision and the increasing work load of staff administering the statutory assessment procedure.

Annual Expenditure
Financial YearSpecial Unit
1997-98 (projected)1,010,000840,00040,000830,000

Expenditure on Special Schools and Home Tuition
Financial Year£
1997-98 (projected)9,055,000
1991-92 was the first year of the inclusion in Board's budget of financial provision for teachers' salaries.
Expenditure incurred in 1995-96 and subsequent financial year includes costs associated with the Psychology and Special Education Support Services. These costs had previously been charged to the Headquarters Administration.


  One possible indicator of the future demand for special educational needs provision is the number of requests being received for statutory assessment. This increased noticeably from September 1995 to May 1997 (see table below) and may be attributed to a number of factors.

    —  An increased number of psychologists leading to a greater number of children being seen.

    —  Raised awareness of parents.

    —  Increasing demands from schools.

Requests for statutory assessment
September 199519September 19968
October 19956October 199615
November 19959November 199614
December 199520December 199624
January 19963January 199723
February 199616February 199710
March 199618March 19979
April 199622April 199739
May 199611May 1997 27
Total124Total 169
The figures above show 36.29 per cent increase in the number of requests being received for statutory assessment.


  At 31 December 1996 there were in total 1,342 statements in place and a year later (31 December 1997) the number had risen to 1,512 i.e., 12.667 per cent increase. This figure has been rounded up to 13 per cent and used for projections in relation to provision requirements for the next three years. Currently there are 320 cases at stage 4.

  There are 613 children currently awaiting an initial psychological assessment at stage 3. Ninety six of these have been requested by parents. The waiting list is a result of the difficulties and time delay in replacing educational psychologists, as well as the existing staff having a full case load.



  Over the past four years there has been on-going communications between schools and the Board. The communication takes the form of phone calls, meetings and letters.

  One issue which is a major concern for Principals of special schools in particular is the lack of nursing support for the carrying out of medical procedures e.g. tube feeding, catheterisation. This is a problem which will become more widespread as an increasing number of children with special educational needs which arise from medical conditions are maintained in ordinary schools. Trade unions are actively advising teachers and ancillary staff not to take on duties in this regard and so there could be discrimination against children with conditions which require medical intervention if school staff follow union advice.

  The introduction of the new legislation governing Annual Reviews and Transition Plans has resulted in requests from Principals for substitute cover so that teachers can be released to attend meetings. Also the additional paperwork has led to comments being received from Principals regarding the need for larger and better equipped offices as well as increased clerical support.

  At a meeting of the Association of Principals of Special Schools, one Principal commented that it would be impossible to run the school without the additional money in the Gift Fund.

  Following inspections of schools, the Board receives comments from Boards of Governors regarding the lack of accommodation for specialist subjects and the inadequate size of some of the general classrooms. Such situations are investigated and generally the outcome is an addition to the lists for major or minor works.


  The concern expressed by the Principals with regard to the provision of nursing support for carrying out medical procedures has been conveyed to the Department of Education for Northern Ireland via letter, face-to-face meetings and telephone calls. The issue is to be addressed by the Regional Review Group which was constituted this year by DENI and the Department of Health. However the Education and Library Boards have concerns that it is not a high priority for the Health Boards and may continue to cause real practical problems in schools, particularly special schools for children with severe learning difficulties.

  The North Eastern Education and Library Board regularly makes the Department of Education for Northern Ireland aware of the pressures on the Board's budget, particularly the Special Education budget which is demand determined. For example, a bid was submitted with respect to the implementation of the Code of Practice for the identification and assessment of special educational needs. This year, a letter was written outlining the particular provision problems being encountered and a bid made in relation to meeting the needs of children identified as having special educational needs.

  The designated officers for special education from the five Education and Library Boards meet regularly to discuss strategic issues and a representative from the DENI is invited. This is a useful forum for making representations to the Department on current issues.

  The Board has within its top priorities for new starts a special school and is actively involved in advancing other projects in the special education sector.


  In the North Eastern Education and Library Board there is a shortfall in provision for 210 pupils who already have statements or whose statements will be ready to draft by April 1998.

  There is a shortfall of 63 places within the special schools and 58 places short in primary and secondary units for pupils with moderate learning difficulties.

  In addition a lack of provision has been identified in the following areas:

    emotional/behavioural difficulties — 40

    assistance in mainstream — 11

    as yet unidentified problems but being assessed — 53

    literacy — 108

    Total — 212

  The problems in relation to special educational needs provision which are currently apparent within the Board, and the government's stated preference for inclusive education, are reflected in the three year plan below which indicates the minimum level of increased funding required to meet the needs of pupils with statements. It is based on the recent increase of 13 per cent continuing.

  The plan proposes a small number of new units but the emphasis is on resources/finance being devolved to schools with the pupil's statement of special educational needs and the establishment of local outreach support from special schools. In theory, this should ease the pressure on units and special schools as well as enabling schools to develop expertise which should then lead to fewer numbers coming through to stage 4 (i.e., formal assessment). However the unknown element of parental choice is always present, as well as the possibility of the Board being taken to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal.

Year 1
Ballykeel KS 21 teacher and 1 classroom assistant12 places37,500
Harpurs Hill KS 21 teacher and 1 classroom assistant12 places37,500
Outcome difficult to predict£5,000 per pupil53265,000
Hearing ImpairedFM systems1414,000
Assistance for physical and medical conditions£8,000 for classroom assistant1188,000
Speech and language impairment£5,000840,000
EBD£5,000 per pupil1050,000
Learning difficulties Coleraine/Ballymoney area£5,000 per pupil26130,000
Total Year 1662,000
It is anticipated that the number of requests for formal assessment will continue to escalate in the short term and this is reflected in the figures for Year 2 (i.e., approximately 13 per cent increase maintained).

Year 2
Ballykeel KS 11 teacher and 1 classroom assistant12 places38,625
SL1 unit or outreach in north1 teacher and 1 classroom assistant10 places38,625
Outcome difficult to predict£5,150 per pupil50257,500
Hearing ImpairedFM systems1010,000
Assistance for physical and medical conditions£8,240 for assistance1082,400
Autism£5,150 per pupil1051,500
ADD/EBD£5,150 per pupil20103,000
Learning difficulties£5,150 per pupil20103,000
Total Year 2684,650
The introduction of clearly defined criteria alongside the implementation of the school-based stages of the Code or Practice may slow down further increases.

Year 3
SLD additional class1 teacher and 1 classroom assistant8 places40,000
SL1 unit in west1 teacher and 1 classroom assistant12 places40,000
Outcome difficult to predict£5,300 per pupil40212,160
Hearing ImpairedFM systems1010,000
Assistance for physical and medical conditions£8,487 for assistance1084,870
Autism£5,304 per pupil1053,040
EBD£5,304 per pupil1579,560
Learning difficulties£5,304 per pupil1579,560
Total Year£599,190
Furthermore there is difficulty recruiting educational psychologists because of the training arrangements and there is a lack of recognised training courses for teachers in the area of special needs.


  A clear distinction needs to be drawn between children defined as "in need" under the Children Order and children with "special educational needs" as defined under the Education (NI) Order 1996. While many, if not all, children with special educational needs are likely also to fall within the Children Order definition of "in need" (if not through disability, then through their need for services), it will be important to recognise that the two definitions are serving different purposes and have different implications.

  Given the wider scope of the "in need" category, many children may be entitled to services as children "in need" under the Children Order, even though they are not defined as having special educational needs under the Education (NI) Order 1996. The services to which they are entitled are not the same. Special educational needs are linked to educational needs specifically, whereas "in need" is intended to lead to a broader range of support services, to enable families facing troubles of different kinds to look after and care for children themselves. However, services for children with special educational needs clearly need, under the Children Order, to be co-ordinated effectively by collaboration between Education and Library Boards and Health and Social Services.

  Article 17 identifies those children who by this Order are deemed to be in need and makes reference to children whose development is impaired and to the child who is disabled. Article 18 requires services to be provided to safeguard and promote the welfare of all children who are in need.

  Health and Social Services in conjunction with the Education and Library Boards identified various categories of children who could be termed "in need" and for whom education could be justifiably required to make provision e.g., excluded children. The number of suspension/expulsions has increased dramatically in recent years and the Board has a duty to make alternative provision for children who are excluded for other than very short periods. (This correlates to stage 4 in the Code of Practice.) The Minister of Education has recently recognised this in the launch of the School Improvement Programme.


  The Home Tuition figures for September 1997-March 1998 show a 56 per cent increase on the same period for the previous year.

  Parents are becoming more aware of the rights of their children to be suitably educated. However there is a need to have parenting skills programmes as more parents are reporting that their children are out of control. Health and Social Services do not feel adequately resourced to meet this need.


  The 1996 legislation will have a significant impact on the current situation which is illustrated by the Audit Commission's statistics for England and Wales. These show that 102 LEAs (88 per cent) have recorded an increase in the number of the statements maintained over the two year period 1994-96. Eighty-two LEAs (71 per cent) saw a growth of over 10 per cent in the number of statements, with Enfield reporting a 125 per cent rise over the two years. Only 14 LEAs (12 per cent) recorded a decrease in the number of statements.

Percentage of pupils with statements in England, Wales and Northern Ireland
ELB/LEAPercentage of
pupils with
statements in
Percentage of
pupils with
statements in
St Helens 6.3 
Doncaster 5.5 
Wigan 4.7 
Greenwich 4.7 
Cornwall 4.7 
Lambeth 2.1 
Mid Glamorgan 2.1 
Sandwell 2.0 
Oldham 1.5 
Nottinghamshire 1.3 

  In the North Eastern Education and Library Board area, the number of requests for statutory assessment has begun to rise and this, combined with the extended format of the statement, transition plans, time limits, new rights of appeal for parents, and the changes regarding the naming of the school in part 4 of the statement, will increase the workload for staff of the Special Education Branch. With the current level of staffing, the Branch is having difficulty meeting the increasing demands and additional resources would need to be allocated to Special Education.

Additional staffing requirement
EWO equivalent316,00048,000
IT equipment41,0004,000

  In a small, but steadily increasing, number of cases the legislation and Code of Practice are being referred to by parents and particularly the right to express a preference regarding the school named in the statement. Unfortunately parents are not reading this as it is written but quoting it as their right to choose the school their child should attend. They appear to be unaware and uninterested in the totality of the legislation particularly Article 8(2). This states that:

    "Where a child who has special educational needs is being educated in ordinary school, those concerned with making educational provision for the child shall secure, so far as is reasonable practicable and is compatible with—

    the child receiving the special educational provision which his learning difficulty calls for,

    the provision of efficient education for the children with whom he will be educated, and the efficient use of resources,

    that the child engages in the activities of the school together with children who do not have special educational needs."

  Parents are only concerned with "getting the best" for their child which is understandable but often is not in keeping with "the efficient use of resources".

23 March 1998

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