Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence



MEMORANDUM FROM THE SOUTHERN EDUCATION AND LIBRARY BOARD

1. EXPENDITURE

  The Board's current expenditure on Special Needs Education is £10 million (1997-98 financial year). A breakdown of this expenditure is shown in Annex 1. Expenditure over the past seven years has increased annually at a rate of approximately 10 per cent. The figures relating to number of children statemented and the support provided are shown in Annex 2.

2. DEMAND

  The demand for Special Needs Education has grown steadily since the introduction of statementing in 1986. In addition to the demand being prompted by statutory agencies, voluntary groups are requiring the Board to consider a wide range of minority handicaps which require specialist provision. Specialist support e.g., in areas such as Dyslexia, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD), and Dyspraxia arises from an improved understanding of the education process and from parents/groups who believe that "education " is appropriate and should be available to children with such disabilities.

3. REPRESENTATION

  The Board, through its officers and committees, continually assess the needs of the community for education provision. The Board's Special Education Committee, in addition to its role in formally statementing children with Special Educational Needs, monitors appeals and listens to representation from parents of pupils considered to have such needs.

  The Board has formal mechanisms for consulting schools on the in-service training needs of teachers and other staff in schools, including staff who teach pupils in both mainstream schools and special schools.

4. SHORTFALL IN PROVISION

  The Board has in place a number of specialist facilities including 63 special units in mainstream schools and six special schools. The Board has identified the need to replace three of the special schools at a cost of approximately £6.1 million.

  A recent innovation has been the creation of a centre for pupils with emotional and behavioural problems. Recent trends in suspensions and expulsions suggest that additional centres will be required to provide appropriate therapy alongside normal education provision.

  The Department of Education has indicated to the Board its expectation that, under its behavioural management strategy, further pupil referral units will be required including a Board-provided behavioural management team.

  Schools' main concerns relate to the lack of staff time and resources (clerical and administrative) needed to implement the growing number of Government policies in general and the Code of Practice and Children Order in particular.

5. CODE OF PRACTICE AND CHILDREN ORDER

  The full impact of the Code of Practice and Children Order has yet to be determined (fully implemented in September 1998). However, there is evidence of increased workloads for both schools and the Board.

  At school level, considerable additional training is needed for all staff and governors. The role of the SENCO (Special Needs Co-ordinator) is evolving with a growing workload in co-ordinating the provision made for children with special needs. All teachers are involved in the development of Individual Education Plans (IEPs).

  At Board level there is growing demand for professional staff to support schools, for a reappraisal of policy and resourcing for special needs, and the need to monitor and evaluate and ensure quality provision.

  It is agreed that a multi-disciplinary approach to the planning provision for young people with special educational needs is required.

  Many agree that the proxy socio-economic indicator of free school meals is a robust means of predicting the number of pupils with special educational needs and as a means of distributing resources at school level. However, this indicator is becoming less useful in the light of the Code of Practice, where the emphasis is clearly on identifying the special educational needs of individual pupils. A needs-led approach is required.

6. FUTURE REQUIREMENTS

  Schools are seeking to have pupils referred without having followed the stages in the Code of Practice, and in addition some schools (both special schools and units in mainstream schools) are being selective with regard to the pupils they are prepared to admit. Frequently they do not see a difference between a statemented pupil and a non-statemented pupil in terms of admission arrangements.

  The growing number of pupils with emotional and behavioural problems has tended to make school managers very aware of the difficulties in admitting such pupils.

  Until the Code of Practice and the Children Order have been operational for a number of years, it is difficult to estimate the shortfall in places for children with special educational needs. The Government has already asked the Education and Library Boards to provide an additional 200 withdrawal places by September 1998 and to prepare plans to develop alternative educational provision on a multi-agency basis for pupils for whom mainstream education is not suitable.

7. ASSESSMENT

  In the Southern Education and Library Board, there are approximately 790 children either waiting for assessment or in the process of being assessed (Annex 3). Assessment is in many cases a complex process requiring a multi-agency approach, including medical and educational advice. The resources required are not always within the control of the Education and Library Board. This, together with the wide range of disabilities, means that the assessment process sometimes takes longer than expected.

  In general, the requests for assessments come from parents via the school. However, there is growing involvement from voluntary groups and professionals encouraging parents to seek assessment without following the formal process of the Code of Practice.

10 March 1998


 
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