Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Special Needs Education (replies to questions found on pages 24-5)


  1. (a) Funding for special schools is based on the historical cost of running a special school of a particular size for children with particular needs. Staffing accounts for approximately 80 per cent of these costs and the level of staffing was, in the past, set by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland. This pupil teacher ratio has been maintained and the Board has, when necessary, enhanced the number of teachers and ancillary staff in order to meet the special educational needs of the pupils.

  (b) The majority of children who are identified and require a statement are in the mainstream initially. They have a notional amount of funding allocated to them under Local Management of Schools (LMS). Where the statement identifies that their needs can be met in a mainstream school, this funding is increased to enable the special educational provision to be made. This topping-up reflects the degree of the special educational need but the cost of this does not exceed the unit cost for a place in a special school or unit as this is in line with the legislative requirement of efficient use of resources.

  Problems arise with placements when parents perceive their right to express a preference as a right to choose the school placement but without taking into account the legal requirement placed upon Boards to make economic use of resources. This creates difficulties and may result in appeals. The question then arises as to the cognisance the newly established Tribunal system (in Northern Ireland) will take of this requirement. It would appear from the number of tribunals ruling against the English authorities that the views of parents take precedence over the advice of the professionals.

  2. The following criteria assist with the allocation of funding to mainstream placements:

    —  the individual needs of the pupil.

    —  the efficient education of other pupils.

    —  existing circumstances in the school e.g., other pupils with statements and additional resources.

    —  cost of provision.

  3. The effectiveness of different placements for children with statements of special educational needs is evaluated by:

    —  Annual reviews

      The Board has a duty to review, at least annually, the statements of special educational needs and the reports from these meetings are monitored to establish if the pupil's special educational needs are being met. If a school indicates there is a concern prior to the annual review, a Board officer will attend the annual review meeting.

    —  Parental contact

      It is not unusual for parents when they have concerns to contact the Special Education Branch. A Board officer then investigates the concern and meets with the parent to discuss the situation. This may take place in the school where the child is placed so that the staff are fully involved.

    —  School requests re-assessment

      Information has been sent to schools which advises the staff on the procedure to be followed when there is concern regarding a pupil's special educational needs.

    —  DENI inspections.

  4. Up to the present time there has been no requirement for schools to report on how the money allocated under LMS for non-statemented pupils with special educational needs has been spent. Information to date has been gathered informally through the following channels.

    —  Meetings between Board officers and school Principals regarding the special educational needs of individual children.

    —  Board of Governors minutes.

    —  Board officers investigating requests for additional resources.

  However under the 1996 Education Order, the school's annual report will have to include details regarding the spending of this allocation in the delegated budget.


  5. The Board's Special Education Policy includes the following regarding the definitions of "special education provision" and "special educational needs".

  "The legislation defines special educational needs as `a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made'. `Learning difficulty' means that the child has significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of his/her age, and/or has a disability which hinders his or her use of everyday educational facilities (or, where the child is below school age, would hinder such use if the child were of school age). `Special educational provision' means educational provision which is different from, or additional to, the provision made generally for children of comparable age.

  Special educational needs cannot be defined in absolute terms. Some individual needs will be transient and easily met by appropriate support within the normal learning environment or by short-term, perhaps intensive, intervention. Other needs will be complex and profound, requiring long-term, individualised learning programmes. Many more will be somewhere between these two extremes. For learners, this continuum of need must be met by a continuum of provision that is a broad range of support, resources and provision. This should vary from in-service training and advice to classroom teachers who work with children on a day to day basis through to special schools which offer intensive support for, at present, approximately 1 per cent of the school population. Whilst it is important to identify special needs and strategies for responding to them, this must be done in a way which recognises the strengths and positive achievements of each individual."

  6. The same principles are applied to each category of special educational need.


  7. The role of the Board is to meet the individual needs of the individual pupil in a way that is particular to that child. In doing this, the Board, in liaison with parents and professionals, considers whether the child's needs can be met in the mainstream school. As a result, the numbers of pupils being placed in mainstream schools and units has increased from 11 per cent in 1995-96 to 17 per cent in 1997-98. Overall, 37 per cent of pupils with statements of special educational needs are placed in mainstream or special units attached to mainstream schools. Although there is a strong lobby for integration, it must be noted that a significant number of parents actively seek a special school placement.

  8. Home tuition is the method by which education otherwise than at school is currently provided in the North Eastern Education and Library Board. However, there are plans to extend and enhance this aspect of education, e.g., specially designed courses with input from Further Education. Currently eight hours per week of home tuition is provided for secondary age pupils and five hours per week for primary age pupils. This provides 27 per cent of full time education. It should be noted that home tuition is intensive one to one work which is unlike the classroom situation. The Board endeavours to provide as wide a range of general subjects but obviously practical subjects cannot be covered. Where a pupil is undertaking GCSE or "A" levels, specialist tutors are employed where possible and so a pupil can have more than one tutor.

  In a 12 month period, 229 pupils have been on home tuition for a variety of reasons and for differing durations. The main reasons are medical (46 per cent), pregnancies (31 per cent) and emotional and behavioural difficulties (32 per cent) with the remaining 3 per cent accounting for those moving into the Board's area and for whom immediate school placement cannot be made. The cost of running this service is £228,000.


    9. I.  NEELB & NHSS Strategy Group

    II.  Area Child Protection Committee

    III.  Children Order Training Group

    IV.  Area Children and Young Peoples Committee—the core Strategic Group and appropriate sub-committees have education representatives e.g., Disabilities

    V.  Early Years Committee

    VI.  Regional Review Group

  In addition to the formal links through committees, a significant number of Board officers from different service areas meet regularly with representatives from Health and Social Services e.g., Senior Clinical Medical Officers, Speech and Language Therapy managers, Assistant Director of Children Services, and Social Services representatives.

  General relationships are good, but there will always be difficulties when any authority asks another for services which involve additional finance. This creates conflicting priorities. Currently, service level agreements are being sought for nursing support in schools for children with severe learning difficulties and paramedical services for mainstream schools.

  10. The following documents are agreed or in draft form:

    —  An Inter-Agency Agreement between Health and Education and Library Boards is in draft form and out to consultation.

    —  Protocol for Anaphylaxis between NEELB & HomeFirst & Causeway Trusts.

    —  Agreements with health professionals concerning response times to requests for advice and structure of advice.

15 July 1998

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