Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence



1. On what basis do you calculate funding for placements of children with statements of special educational needs in: (a) special schools and (b) mainstream schools?

  In Northern Ireland special schools do not have fully delegated budgets as is the case in England and Wales. Special schools have "Limited Delegation" under which funding is allocated to them under the following headings: Energy; Books/Materials; Small Equipment; Printed/Stationery/Postage/Telephones; Cleaning/Laundry; Hire of Teaching Equipment; Hire of Recreation Facilities; Hire of Non-Teaching Equipment; Maintenance.

  All other funding is held centrally by the board including staffing costs.

  The cost of a placement for a child with a statement in a special school is calculated as the unit cost of a child in that school.

Total Cost of School (including Staff and Running Costs)
Number of Pupils
= Unit cost per pupil

  The cost of a placement for a child with a statement in a mainstream school is:

    AWPU[1] + SEN FUNDING + SOCIAL DEPRIVATION FUNDING + any additional cost such as extra teaching or classroom assistant time, etc., provided by the Board.

  The cost of a placement for a child with a statement in a special unit is:

    .74 AWPU1 + SEN FUNDING + SOCIAL DEPRIVATION FUNDING. The Board also provides staffing—both teaching and non-teaching—in special units

2. Please describe the criteria that assist you in making different allocations to different schools

  Provision, and therefore costs, of a child with a statement in a mainstream school vary according to the child's needs and the provision made for him/her.

  Costs in special schools for a child with a statement vary depending on the child's difficulties (MLD, SLD, physical disabilities, etc.) and the staffing levels in the particular type of special school.

3. How do you evaluate the effectiveness of different placements for children with statements of special educational need?

  The performance of special schools and special educational services such as learning outreach services and behavioural outreach services is examined by the Inspectorate through its programme of school inspections.

  The progress of individual children receiving outreach support because of learning or behavioural problems is very closely monitored through annual review procedures involving the mainstream school, the outreach service and the educational psychology service.

  Evaluation of a special educational provision and evaluation of individual children's progress are both important since it is in the nature of the difficulties experienced by children with SEN that their progress may be quite minimal even when attending provision which is of good quality.

  In addition to school inspections which evaluate special educational provisions, the board relies mainly on the evidence of progress made by individual pupils in particular placements. When the board has occasionally carried out more systematic evaluations it has been on occasions when it has had the opportunity to use students or teachers involved in further study who wish to carry out research as part of their course of study. We have, in the last three years, on this basis conducted evaluations with the help of psychology students from the University of Ulster and the University of Exeter. It must be said, however, that the present pressure to have regard to the Code of Practice makes it very difficult to give the time necessary for systematic evaluation of special educational provisions.


4. What are the reporting arrangements in respect of how schools use the funding for non-statemented pupils with special educational needs?

  There are no reporting arrangements at present because SEN funding in mainstream schools is part of formula funding and as such is entirely at the discretion of the Boards of Governors. Giving Boards of Governors this autonomy was what LMS was all about.

  If there were to be a change in this situation, the LMS Scheme would have to be amended and this would require approval from DENI.

  Under the new Code of Practice, Board of Governors will have to account for SEN funding at the annual parents' meetings.


5. How do you interpret the definitions of "special educational provision" and "special educational needs" (as set out in the Education Order (NI) 1996) for your board area?

  The Board interprets these terms in the broad sense as per the Warnock (1978) Report. That is to say, the Board considers that roughly 18 per cent of children will have special educational needs and will require special educational provision. However, in all but about 2 per cent of cases, it is anticipated that the needs will be such that schools will meet these special educational needs from within their own resources, or with the assistance of special educational services, without the need for a statement of special educational needs to be made. The Board would stress however that the 2 per cent figure quoted above does not represent some sort of limit or quota beyond which the Board will not go. Each case is considered on its individual merits.

6. Do you apply the definitions differentially for the various categories of special educational needs as defined in the Code of Practice? If so how?

  The question is posed in terms of "definitions" and "categories". This seems to imply an assumption that the process of providing for children with special educational needs is one of categorising the type of problem the child has by reference to the definition of each category, then providing the type of help that is designated as appropriate to each category. The process is only superficially like this. In reality, children's needs do not fit neatly into categories; nor does provision. Issues of definition are therefore less important than the question implies. In reality, the process is one of trying to identify and list the special needs of the child and then trying to arrange special provision which can meet these needs. A child with Aspergers Syndrome (rather like a mild autism) may, for example, have mild literacy difficulties, extreme maths difficulties, and be socially very odd. Such a child might very well be best catered for in a school for children with moderate learning difficulties or a school for children with medical conditions. Some children may be defined as dyslexic, or partially sighted, or partially hearing, yet they may have such a mild version of the condition that they are catered for in the mainstream school with no extra resources provided beyond any extra attention that the ordinary class teacher provides.

  For children who exhibit general learning difficulties, the Board relies heavily on the use of standardised test results combined with clinical judgment to decide whether the learning difficulty should be defined as mild, moderate or severe. The criteria are applied in such a way that the Board will provide support additional to that already made by the school for those children whose attainment levels are judged to be among the weakest 2 per cent of children measured against United Kingdom norms. If the support provided is of an outreach or peripatetic type which is available normally to schools, no statement is required.

  For children with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, the Board again relies heavily on standardised test results. Pupils who show a statistically significant discrepancy (with 95 per cent confidence) between intelligence and literacy scores for example may be described as dyslexic or said to have specific difficulties with literacy. These difficulties may be quite mild, however, a child with a very high IQ may be described as dyslexic if his reading attainments are only average. For many children, therefore, the required provision can be made by their own school. The board may provide a statement for such children if their level of reading is extremely restricted, i.e., if it is as weak as that of the weakest 2 per cent of children of the same age. However, the board provides a peripatetic teaching service which provides for a much broader group of children who do not have statements of special educational need.

  With other types of special difficulty, there is generally less reliance on the results of standardised tests and much more reliance on clinical judgment and other types of information such as that provided by therapists and doctors. The Board will consider making a statement, to quote the Code of Practice, when the child's difficulties:

    —  are significant and/or complex;

    —  have not responded to relevant and purposeful measures taken by the school and any external specialists involved; and

    —  may call for special educational provision which cannot reasonably be provided within the resources normally available to mainstream schools in the area.

  For example, the assessment of emotional and behavioural problems is basically a process of judging how much and what type of extra support, if any, is necessary to maintain the child in a mainstream school or judging whether the situation is such that special placement is essential. Probably more so than with any other type of difficulty, the context in which the problem is occurring is a major consideration. Definitions and categories are usually of little relevance. The increasing incidence of the diagnosis of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder) and Autistic Spectrum Disorders is, however, making definition and categorisation more relevant as there are specific treatments that sometimes can be of benefit to children with such disorders. It appears that the number of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties will always be at least as large as the number of children for whom special provision can be made.

  The three preconditions described above are also brought into play in relation to the other types of difficulty described in the Code of Practice.

  The main issue of importance to schools and parents in relation to special educational needs is whether there is enough special provision available to meet the needs of all the children and who should pay for the provision—the Board or the school. The Board finds that it is usually not difficult to meet the needs of children with visual or hearing problems, or children with medical conditions, or children with speech and language difficulties, or children with physical disabilities. It is often, however, difficult to arrange sufficient provision for children with learning difficulties, specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, and children with emotional and behavioural problems. Conditions such as "dyspraxia", which have become popularised in recent years by non-educationalists such as speech and language therapists and occupational therapists, also provide a challenge. Once such a condition is diagnosed, parents often assume that special educational provision should automatically follow, paid for by the Board, even through the condition may be having a mild impact on the child's educational progress.


7. What steps has the Board taken towards promoting the integration of pupils with statements of special educational needs into mainstream schools?

  There has been a vast growth in outreach teaching which has been provided to retain children with SEN in their own mainstream schools. This has not, however, reduced the number of children in special schools.

  The demand for even more children to attend special schools has been stemmed by the introduction of very consistently applied criteria for children with special needs.

  However, special schools in Northern Ireland have had time to improve themselves; they are popular with parents; children do not want to leave them; their parents resist plans to reintegrate; schools build in social inclusion in to their curriculum; there is little popular demand for integration among parents; the level of segregation in Northern Ireland is still very, very low in comparison with levels in countries such as Belgium and Germany where around 5 per cent of children are in special schools.

8. How many children of school age in your Board's area are receiving education otherwise than at school (EOTAS)? What is the cost of this provision? On average what percentage of full-time education does education otherwise provide? What is the nature of this provision?

Children receiving EOTAS36
Children in Northside Project25
Cost of Provision 
Percentage of Education Provided 

Nature of Provision

  Both EOTAS and Northside provide teaching in Literacy and Numeracy, Information Technology, PE, Arts and Crafts, some Science and Home Economics. In addition there are links with Job Skills, Social Services, Further Education and also with Youth Agencies in respect of personal and social education.


9. What arrangements are there for co-operation between your Board and Health and Social Services Boards? If there are difficulties, please give examples.

  Health and Social Services Boards, through their Trusts, provide the Board with medical, nursing, therapy and social services for children in special schools and special units.<jf104>

  The Board has provided some psychology time to Health services for children's assessment clinics as well as Teacher of the Hearing Impaired time for audiology clinics.

  More recently the Health and Social Services Boards and the Education and Library Boards have set up a Regional Review Group to look at provision within education across the boards.

  There are continuing difficulties in respect of the amount of therapy time available, particularly speech and language therapy, and parents often demand more provision for their children.

  The anomaly in the new Code of Practice whereby the prime responsibility to provide speech and language therapy lies with Health Services, while the ultimate responsibility to provide speech and language therapy lies with Education, also continues to present problems. Parents have taken education authorities to Tribunals because health services have not provided enough speech and language therapy to their children.

  The central problem here is that while health services are required only to provide a speech and language service, the Education and Library Board has to ensure that the speech and language needs of the individual child are met.

10. Are there any agreed policies between the Education and Library Board and the appropriate Health and Social Services Board regarding health and social services provision for children with special educational needs?

  The Regional Review Group which has been established by both the Health and Social Services Boards and the Education and Library Boards has recently produced a draft of an "Interagency Agreement" which is currently with all of the Boards for consultation.

6 July 1998

1  Age Weighted Pupil Unit Back

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