Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 1 - 19)




  1.  You are most welcome. The labels which have the names on your side also have labels on our side, so we are able to identify all of you. In line with our normal practice, we will ask questions from different corners of the horseshoe, because we will try to make sure that the questions follow a logical pattern. It may well be, either during the examination or, indeed, in writing afterwards, you might wish to gloss something that you had said, if you felt that it had not been entirely clear, and we might well wish to follow up with some more written questions after the event is over. I do not know whether there is anything you would like to say, either individually or collectively, before we start? I should advise the hearing that we are quite likely to have a Division in the fairly near future, at which point we will simply suspend temporarily. Mr Topping, I gather you are in the role of overseer, or co-ordinator?
  (Mr Topping)  Thank you very much, Chairman. Yes, for my sins, I am afraid, I have got the position of trying to co-ordinate what goes on. And could I say thank you, Chairman, for the invitation, and thank you to the Members for inviting us here; we are particularly pleased to be here to assist the Committee in its deliberations. We would like to make, I think, maybe a few initial remarks, Chairman, if that is okay.

  2.  Of course.
  (Mr Topping)  First of all, we are very grateful for your introduction. The provision of special education for children with special educational needs is perhaps one of the most difficult, sensitive and, even, at times, heart-rending responsibilities which we in the Boards have to fulfil. It often requires a delicate balance between the wishes of parents, the individual needs of children and the limited resources that are available. Our role is to make the best possible, high quality provision which contributes to the enhancement of children's learning and meets their educational needs. The area of identification, assessment and making provision for those with special educational needs is a complex, dynamic and, we would argue, I think, evolving area, requiring flexible responses and a range of provision throughout a continuum of need. We are justly proud, Chairman, of the special education facilities we provide, and we welcome the Committee's interest in this subject, which we believe will contribute to the enhancement of our services. I think it is timely, too, Chairman, to take stock of what we have achieved over the last ten years, because we are moving from the framework that was established by the 1986 Order to one based on the 1996 Order, and that establishes, through a Code of Practice, the best practice over the intervening decade. And our responses, I hope, to your questions, Chairman, and to your inquiry, will be to concentrate, first of all, on how we have worked over the last ten years and what we have achieved, and also then to show you how we hope to comply, or how we have actually planned to comply, with the 1996 Order and the Code of Practice.

  3.  Thank you very much indeed. Let me start. I detect some difficulty in comparing the cost of different types of provision for pupils with special educational needs. Is there any mechanism whereby the cost of alternative placements at special schools, special units and mainstream schools for pupils with similar educational needs can be compared?
  (Mr Topping)  Thank you, Chairman. I think Mr Martin is going to take the financial aspects.
  (Mr Martin)  Chairman, the situation, by and large, is that the unit cost for children with moderate learning difficulties who are educated in special schools, and we are talking here about statemented pupils, is in the region of £5,000; for pupils with severe learning difficulties, it is closer to £8,000 to £9,000. There are also some units which are provided for children who are statemented and the cost per pupil there is in the region of £4,500 to £5,000. So, in regard to pupils with moderate learning difficulties, there is not a significant difference between those who are educated in special schools and those educated in special units. But we are talking now about the 2 per cent of pupils with special difficulties who have statements.
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, can I make just a general point, too, in relation to that question. I think that, when you look at the 1986 Order, there is a particular philosophy behind that, and the philosophy is that the individual needs of individual children need to be assessed and need to be identified and then the provision needs to be made to meet those needs. I think that means that every single individual child is special and needs to be treated specially. And, therefore, when you come to costing individual needs, undoubtedly there will be a disparity and there will be difference, because we are not categorising children, we are looking at them as individuals. The 1996 Order though, and the Code of Practice, changes that; it starts to group children into various categories and, at that stage, I think it will be easier for us to be able to say "this child falls into this particular group", and therefore we can compare costs much more easily.

  4.  I will be guided by you, Mr Topping, if individual colleagues want to come in?
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  Mr Chairman, I think, also, while you will have the categories, you will have to be mindful that there will be different degrees of disability, and Mr Topping is right in saying that we will have to make provision for the individual needs of children. And the great danger is that we will be inclined to look purely at a financial barometer for measuring the efficiency and effectiveness of provision, and what we are anxious about is that there is progression in the development of these children. We could easily establish a figure which would be attributable to a particular child, but I think what we have got to be mindful of is that we are interested not just in equity of treatment but in equality of opportunity for these children. Not all these children start from the same base, and therefore the amount of money that has to be spent on each child will be determined by the progress that child makes and the sources of help and assistance that that child will need, to respond.

  5.  There is no obligation on everybody to answer, indeed I do not think we would get through the hearing if we did, and to some extent you may already have answered the question I am about to ask, but do your Boards have any mechanisms in place which ensure the equitable allocation of resources to pupils with similar needs, either within your individual Boards or, indeed, collectively, across the Boards as a whole?
  (Mr Martin)  The mechanism that we have is regular meetings between the designated officers of the Boards with responsibility for special needs and they try to agree mechanisms for assessing pupils to ensure that there is a certain level of provision which is fair for pupils with similar types of needs. But, as Mr Topping and Mr Fitzsimons said, the needs are so different; even within physical disabilities, there are different levels of disability, there may be different levels and different kinds of therapy, and we go on the professional advice of the medical, the paramedical and the psychological services, to try to ensure, as far as possible, that the individual needs are met. We are satisfied that there is equity of treatment and that the same type of category of difficulty receives more or less the same type of support.
  (Mrs McClenaghan)  Chairman, I would make reference also to the fact that children who are in units at mainstream schools are allocated funds under the LMS scheme for schools, and there is obviously a great deal of commonality, at the moment, there is a working party on the whole issue of Local Management of Schools and of its funding, and there is one group reporting to that which is particularly looking at the funding of children in units, and indeed the units themselves, with a view to uniformity. So considerable progress is being made on the funding of children within units.
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  There also is an issue of the commonality. A major cost is the staffing of schools, particularly MLD schools and SLD schools and special units. The issue of staffing is a major cost in any provision; it varies between 80 and 90 per cent of a total budget. There is guidance provided by the Department of Education, as applied by the Boards, about pupil/teacher ratios in MLD and SLD schools, and, by and large, that staffing would be uniform across schools and bands. So there is a commonality across there and there is an opportunity for Boards to examine those costs. But the difficulty which arises is really about the cost of teachers, and we are aware that the age profile of teachers determines cost; also the age of and design of buildings, or the units, which are in use. We have some old buildings and we have children in schools with temporary accommodation, and obviously the cost of maintenance and running costs of these are substantially higher than for more modern buildings. But there would be common figures there. So we do compare and we do rationalise provision where we find there is an overprovision. For example, the Belfast Board and the South Eastern Board are now looking to make joint provision for SLD children.
  (Mr McCullough)  Chairman, it might be helpful for Members to be aware that, in England and Wales currently, in special schools and special provision, there is full-blown Local Management of Schools, whereas in Northern Ireland there is not; so we are not actually operating in the same way, so that a child is worth an amount of money in A, B or C, we are operating on the distribution of funding the way we have been doing it historically, in other words, the cost of the placement was met for the child, wherever that may be. So we are not quite in the same situation as England and Wales, where you can compare, because an amount of money is actually given out on the child's head, we actually meet the full cost, whatever that is, wherever it is.

Mr Beggs

  6.  Good afternoon, Mrs McClenaghan and gentlemen. One of the main means of evaluating effectiveness of provision, as indicated by all the Education and Library Boards, is monitoring the annual reviews of statemented pupils. The Northern Ireland Audit Office examination of these reports indicated that in only approximately one-third of reviews was there adequate information to assess the effectiveness of provision or set clear objectives for the future. Would the delegation like to comment on how they actually monitor the system?
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, could I make maybe an initial remark just about the Audit Report, because we are aware that the draft Audit Report is in circulation. We would want to make maybe two points. First of all, we are in the process of commenting on the Audit Report, and there are certain factual aspects to the Audit Report which are unclear to us. We are also in the process of commenting on the recommendations of the Audit Report, because we are not quite clear what some of those recommendations actually mean when they are put into practice on the ground. So, in that context, could we maybe take Mr Beggs's questions, and I think Mr Fitzsimons will deal with evaluation.
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  Mr Chairman, obviously, any review can be improved on, and, certainly, the Code of Practice will require much clearer objectives and targets, and that will be helpful. But I think we have got to realise that annual reviews are examined by Boards with a view to ensuring that the provision which is made for children is adequate. Parents are consulted on that; the health authorities are consulted; professionals look at the proposals. I have had the opportunity of visiting SLD schools and MLD schools, and looking at the education plans which teachers have for individual children. In SLD schools, the plans are very, very detailed and note very small elements of progress and set targets for improvement, and the same applies in the MLD schools. This type of practice, I think, could be delivered in mainstream schools. Also, evaluation is carried out by the Education and Training Inspectorate, in that they visit schools, they look at the provision and look at the quality of provision that is made for children, and their reports are studied carefully. The Boards of Governors of schools also have an obligation to monitor that provision, and, indeed, in the future, there will be a requirement, through the Code, for the special education policy for each school to be published, and also an identification of the resources which are attributed to special education within mainstream schools are also identified, so that parents and everyone can realise how money has been spent and what the objectives are for the expansion of those resources. So there will be, hopefully, an improvement in the format of the annual review and the amount of information which is given there, more clear targets and objectives, building on good practice in special schools, and, also, in mainstream. There will be greater attention given to target-setting and a transparency in the expenditure of special education funds for children who have special needs in those schools.
  (Mr Martin)  Chairman, I wish to reinforce what Mr Fitzsimons was saying and to address the question directly. The Audit Report was drawn up about two years ago. Significant improvements have taken place since then, but the key point is that that issue will be addressed completely by the Code of Practice, which takes effect from 1 September, and all schools will be obliged to provide the details of the information that Mr Beggs described as inadequate, to some extent, at the present time.

  7.  I think probably it would be helpful, Chairman, when the response to the Report is completed, if we, in turn, were advised of the responses being made. Could I finally then simply ask, since all the Boards are monitoring, what follow-up is there to the monitoring process when it has been completed annually?
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  On an individual basis, obviously, an annual review is to examine whether, in fact, the provision that has been made for a child is adequate or not. The education officer, or the designated officer, examines every one of those reviews, reviews the statement, takes account of evidence that has come from Health and Social Services, takes account of parents' views and teachers' views, and the statement may be modified in order to ensure that there is good progress and the support is sufficient to meet the child's needs. Boards are now looking at and trying to get some bench-marks of comparisons between schools, and seeing if there are efficiencies required; if there is a better way of making provision, then the Boards will do that.

Mr McWalter:  Good afternoon. The Chair has been kind enough to let me in early, because I cannot be with you for the full session, so I must apologise for that in advance. I would like to ask about children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, and really the responses we have got seem, in many ways, to be very different. The response from Western, for instance, suggests that the majority of all children with special educational needs will have their needs addressed by their school from within its own resources, and maybe, somewhere or other, it will finally get through to the Board, that, who knows quite when, or, indeed, we have got a fair indication that a relatively low proportion of cases, I think, would ever get any kind of Board attention, or, of course, any kind of more formal statement. When I look at South Eastern's remarks, they say: "In the case of a pupil with, for example, emotional and behaviour difficulties, the Board, in conjunction with the school, would attempt a number of strategies to deal with the problem", etc., etc., so there seems to be a more proactive role for the Board and a clearer understanding, perhaps, of what the team that is trying to provide the diagnosis, or the prognosis, for the child might be. So those are two different perspectives. The third perspective came from the Belfast Board, which, I must confess, I found quite difficult, and our adviser suggested this was an appropriate question to ask. I might refer you, on the Belfast submission, to, it is submission 8a, page 4, where it seems to go hither and thither. The final complete paragraph, on page 4, the long complete paragraph, says that, basically, "Definitions and categories are usually of little relevance." And then points out that there are some areas, like Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder and Autistic Spectrum Disorders, and, I think, there are particularly things like Asperger's syndrome, which, of course, are relatively recent, in terms of their diagnosis, where it really is very important that you make a diagnosis, that you have a definition, that you have a clear understanding. Which is one reason why I prefer the approach of South Eastern to Western, because it is involving a higher level of expertise than just the school itself. So I understand the need for that. But Belfast go on to say, well, okay, that can happen, but, usually, effectively, definitions and categories are usually of little relevance; and then they finally conclude: "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." If I may summarise this, it seems to me, South Eastern, to my mind, seem to have got it right, but I would like to know how the Board gets involved and how it makes its prognosis about what needs to be done? I think Western have not availed themselves of the expertise that should be available, and Belfast is extremely confused. Would you like to comment?

Chairman:  I should make clear, there is no edge to this remark from my colleague. All individual members of the Committee must speak on behalf of themselves, as individuals.

Mr McWalter

  8.  Of course.
  (Mr Topping)  Thank you, Chairman, for that clarification. Mr Chairman, can I make a few general points maybe first of all, and then, obviously, I think the Belfast Board representative, Mr McCullough, would maybe want to respond to that, I am sure. First of all, I think we all recognise that emotional and behavioural difficulties with children is an increasing problem and a very serious problem in schools, because the 1 or 2 per cent who may have these difficulties in a school can create a major problem for educating the rest of the children. So I think that is the first point I want to make, that we do recognise it as a problem. Secondly, we are already in the process of tackling this, in a variety of ways, through a variety of mechanisms, and some of them we have described in the papers we have presented. The most recent one, of course, is through the School Improvement Programme, where a particular element of the School Improvement Programme is to improve the discipline in schools, and part of that is obviously to tackle children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties; but I think we do recognise it and we are taking the issue seriously. Now, as far as the specific points that Mr McWalter mentioned, maybe Mr McCullough could take those on.

  9.  I would like others to comment as well, because obviously there are other issues?
  (Mr McCullough)  Chairman, if I could pick up the two points—there are two points really—in regard to categorisation and emotional and behavioural difficulties, if I can move to categorisations, first of all. Members will probably be aware that, before the 1986 Order, and we are talking of the 1986 Education Order in Northern Ireland, children were categorised into nine categories of handicap; with the arrival of the 1986 Order, we moved away from categorisation because categorisation was seen as being a sensitive area, you were actually categorising children as being handicapped in one of these particular areas, and we moved towards identification of need and provision to need. Now, at a later stage, through formula funding, we have moved, you certainly in England and Wales have moved, back to categorisation, we have not received that yet in Northern Ireland, but the 1996 Order has moved again to categorisation, under eight categories, and they are at the back of the Code of Practice. Categories can be useful and, at the same time, they can be rather superficial, because, when a child is presenting us with a variety of difficulties, if we are categorising a child as having one difficulty, we might well tend to, and indeed the other providers might well tend to, ignore the other difficulties, but provision of funding tends to go with the major handicap, major difficulty, and then the other elements are picked up in some other way. So, with categorisation, we have to be careful that it does not blind us to the child's needs, but, at the same time, and Mr McWalter is right, it is good, in many cases, to categorise, because some children only get provision when a category is produced and a name is produced for that particular difficulty or particular disability, and I have mentioned some of them. There are provisions now for children with ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder; children who previously were in the population but untreated, but now, because of the way they are presenting and because a name is put on it, on the disorder, provision is made and health services are able to provide things like Ritalin to equip the child to cope in school situations. So there are fors and against, in regard to categorisation. If I could move to emotional and behavioural difficulties, what I was actually saying was that there is a dynamic in the system, in regard to emotional and behavioural difficulties, there seems to be always a demand for more provision; when more provision is produced it is filled very quickly, and there is a continuing demand for provision. So, in some ways, there is a relationship between the amount of provision you make and the number of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties, because, in some ways, when there is a level of provision, schools cope with very many of the problems, but there is always an overspill. If I can give examples within our Education and Library Board, nine years ago, we did not make provision for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties when they were in primary school. The teachers in the mainstream schools made that provision themselves. Since then, over a period of nine years, we have provision in a special school, in a special unit and support provision for teachers in mainstream schools, up to 70 pupils across all of those provisions; all of it has been filled and we require more provision. That is what I mean when I say that whatever you provide is going to be filled. You will also note that the spirit of the legislation is integration, and if we keep providing more and more segregated provision for children with behavioural difficulties we are working against the spirit of integration. There are some children who do have major problems and who have always been provided for outside of the mainstream system, children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties, there are other children who have lesser difficulties, and I have sometimes described this as the difference between the child who can control himself, and I say himself because 75 per cent of the incidence is with boys, children who can control themselves but choose not to, as against the child who cannot control himself. There is a vast difference. Mainstream schools used to make provision for the former category and special schools made provision for the latter category. But there is a continuum, there is a range of provision, from provision that can be made, in regard to some of the other submissions, in mainstream schools by mainstream teachers who improve their skills in regard to handling youngsters who have behaviour problems, to support that can come in to the school from the Board. And support is being developed in all of the Boards, from inreach into schools, to removal, to short-term provision outside of schools, or removal to longer-term provision for children who have substantial difficulties, and there are, unfortunately, a considerable number of children in the system who do have substantial difficulties.
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, does Mr McWalter maybe want us to run through what provision we have in each of our Boards, or will that general comment, and the general remarks, I think, that Mr McCullough has made, which most of us would be agreeing with and would have the similar kind of provision in-school, short term and longer term, would that be a satisfactory response?

  10.  I think that is a start, but there are some other elements to my question, I think, which other members of the Boards could perhaps comment on?
  (Mr Topping)  You would like us to run through; okay. Maybe we should start then with Mr Martin and just work our way across.

  11.  Defend themselves a bit?
  (Mr Martin)  I hope I have got this correct, and, if I have not, no doubt Mr McWalter will correct me, but I think what you quoted in relation to the Western Board was the phrase, which is in our document, that the needs of the vast majority of these pupils, that is the 20 per cent who have particular difficulties, are expected to be met by mainstream schools from within their own resources. But further up on that page, you will see that among the services that we provide are outreach support for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties; it is the third point on the top of that page.

  12.  My pages are not numbered.
  (Mr Martin)  I am sorry, it is the third page of our written answer, and the third point at the top of the page.

  13.  Yes.
  (Mr Martin)  "Outreach support for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties"; in fact, we have 12 outreach teachers; eight of those are based in Derry, in two units there, and the others are based in special schools throughout the Board's area, so we have coverage for the whole of the area. And, as well as that, we have two designated officers within the Curriculum Advisory and Support Service, whose particular remit is emotional and behavioural difficulties. So I think that is the short answer.

  14.  So they report directly to the Board, and so the Board is implicated in provision?
  (Mr Martin)  Absolutely; this is Board provision, they are placed in special schools but responsible to the Board, and guidelines are provided for them by the Board.

  15.  Do you find 12 is enough, given the observation, which I agree with, that this is an increasing problem?
  (Mr Martin)  Through you, Chairman, I would never say that this is enough; no. Indeed, one of the areas that has been identified in the Department of Education's School Improvement Programme is behavioural difficulties. There are a number of areas targeted; this is one of them, and the intention is that there will be more support provided in this area because it is an increasing problem. What exactly the optimum provision would be, I could not say, but certainly we have made a start. Of course, if there were more money available, it is an increasingly difficult area and we would want to put more resources there.

  16.  Then, through you, Chair, insofar as it is not enough, schools are still very much thrown back on their own resources to address the problem, so that flavour conveys through, even so?
  (Mr Martin)  I do not think so, because one of the things that all the Boards are doing, particularly in relation to the Code of Practice, is mounting a major programme of training. But it is not just training and then leaving people to their own devices and their own resources; it is trying to support them after the training. There has been a tremendous amount of co-operation and collaboration between the support services of the Boards and the schools, so that schools are not left to their own resources. And, particularly in relation to Stage 3 of the Code of Practice, we are developing a range of support services there which will not leave the schools to their own devices but will help them, as appropriate. And again, different schools have different levels of need; some of them are highly developed, others are less developed, and we are trying to meet them at their point of need.
  (Mrs McClenaghan)  Chairman, I would like to describe briefly the situation in my Board and then to bring out the regional dimension. First of all, we are the sole Board which has a boarding facility, a school specifically for EBD pupils; now that is a regional provision. As it happens, the Audit Office, I think, failed to recognise it was a boarding establishment, and so, when they cited our costs as being considerably greater than that of what they believed was a comparable school in South Eastern Board, the boarding obviously added to the costs, in our case. But it is a five-Board facility, the school is known as Fallowfield. Our own views would be that we would like to test out two options, with a view to recommending them to schools. Three years ago, we established what is called the Kinego Centre. It is a facility for eight local secondary schools and they are entitled to a certain number of places at that school. It is on the understanding that when the staff at the school and the teachers in the transferring school are in agreement then those children will move back to their original secondary school, and so the time span can range from as little as a month, or five weeks, through to about six months, but it is not, by any means, a permanent arrangement for those children. It is generally regarded as being progressive, and we would like to develop it, including into the primary sector. Now Mr McWalter did mention the School Improvement Programme, and this is very important for Boards, and I would like to develop now the regional dimension of that. It is a working group, composed of officers, of researchers, of representatives of the Curriculum Council and others. I formerly had the honour of serving on it as Chairman, but I am still familiar with its workings. It is intending to present to the Department of Education, before Christmas, a regional plan for dealing with such children and the sort of provision which should be made locally. It is examining good practice, both here—when I say "here", I should have explained, Northern Ireland—and also in England and Wales. We are looking at regional structures, because it must be recognised that the needs of one Board do not stop short at the boundary of that Board, we have to think of children in the wider region, and it is encompassing different professionals, both from within Boards and outside Boards. So, for those reasons, it will, I am quite confident, widen thinking and set new targets for the provision for such children, and it will be within the circumference of the School Improvement Programme, and I believe will have an important influence on what schools themselves will do, because it will range from off-site provision to on-site. And my own Board's experience with on-site provision is that it is normally the best provision that can meet the needs; there is no sense then of those children being isolated or having to be reintegrated into a school, they remain part of the school's responsibilities, and the professional staff that we would have would work very closely with those people. We have four outreach teachers, based in the Kinego Centre, and we have one advisory teacher, solely responsible for behaviour management, and she will be supported by an individual three colleagues under the School Improvement Programme.
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  Mr Chairman, most of what has been described happens in South Eastern Board, and really it is how we have presented it, probably differently from the others, that has shown a difference. We have a continuum of support. The first issue is about helping teachers in classroom management, because some of the behaviour problems arise from bad teaching or bad management in classrooms. Also, we are very concerned about early identification of children who are displaying emotional and behavioural problems, because early intervention can be very, very helpful. And so we are anxious that schools develop programmes for promotion of positive behaviour within the schools and that all teachers have responsibility for that; and this would be in common with all the Boards. We also have outreach teachers from special schools, we have two special schools that major in this, Longstone special school and also Ardmore special school. Longstone deals with primary and Ardmore with secondary children. So a continuum of provision is there, and we have various strategies for removal of children, for helping teachers to support children, and we also have the situation where children need to be statemented. The one issue which I think my colleagues have not mentioned is that we have got to recognise that some children do have psychiatric problems, and we are concerned that the Health Boards and Trusts are not resourced to respond quickly enough to children and adolescents who manifest psychiatric problems, and that creates a major difficulty. One of the major issues for schools, in terms of children with emotional and behavioural problems, is the amount of time and effort that is directed towards trying to contain those children, so that they do not damage themselves and damage other children, and this affects adversely the education of other children. So we are anxious to get a speedy response from Trusts and Health Boards to requests for psychiatric help and for psychiatric assessments.
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, could I maybe just tidy things up, perhaps by following through on behalf of the North Eastern Board, and, without maybe prolonging things, I think our provision is very similar to what has been described: in-school support for the schools to try to improve what is going on in the classroom, outreach support from a variety of centres, short-term support, where we can do that, or short-term placement, where we can do that, and long-term placement, where we have to do that, and actually statementing children, where we have to do that. But the legislation, I think, requires us, where possible, to try to keep children in ordinary schools, and we try to fulfil the spirit of that legislation. I would just want to emphasise two other points, really. One is the point that Mr Fitzsimons has just made, in relation to the incidence of children presenting with psychiatric problems; there is a major issue there, I think, in terms of getting the right kind of provision for those children, particularly with the health authorities' policies of care in the community. And one other point, I think, which has not been mentioned by any of my colleagues but I think is quite important, is the role of further education. I think, for many children who display problems of behaviour, it might be that what is being provided for them may not be appropriate, now that is not at the upper end of the scale but at the lower end of the scale, and FE can provide the right kind, perhaps, of provision for them, even though they are below compulsory school age.

Mr McWalter:  Chair, if I may just conclude, I think I have had full value for my question, but I would just like to thank you for the very full responses that I have had and say, actually, despite the rather aggressive nature of my questions, in England, we have got a lot to learn from you.

Chairman:  Mr Browne, I think you want to revisit one of the earlier sets of questions, but you have some questions of your own as well.

Mr Browne

  17.  Thank you very much, Chair. Good afternoon, and welcome, and thank you very much for the memoranda, which I found interesting. We all have a copy of this draft Northern Ireland Audit Office Report, and it is at least helpful, in general terms, that we know you are in the process of commenting on that Report; it is also helpful that you have told us that you do not agree with all the factual observations in it. Some of my questioning is based on some of the facts there, so it would be helpful to me if we could, where appropriate, get a basis of factual agreement. If I may go back to the questions that Mr Beggs asked, the first question I would like to ask you, and I do not know how you wish to answer this, because there may not be a consensus among you, but, do you accept, first of all, the assertion, which is supported by the Report, that only one-third of the review reports of the sample that the Audit Office looked at contained adequate information for an effective assessment? Is that accepted; albeit it is two years old and historical, is it accepted?
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  In order to evaluate that, we would have to see the documentation. If, for example, they are making a statement like that, we would have to see the documentation, to see, in fact, what they were looking for and what we were looking for. I think, an annual review is, essentially, a child-centred review, it is there to assist parents, assist psychologists, assist the Health Board and the Education and Library Board, to ensure that the provision which is made is adequate and that the child is making progress. And, obviously, the form of the annual review is standard throughout Boards, and the information that is provided, by and large, has been found to be acceptable to all involved, in making sure the provision is adequate. I would have to say that the approach of the audits may have had a different dimension, in that what they are looking for is value for money and effectiveness and efficient use of resources, whereas, the key, as far as we are concerned, is the progress of the child and the adequacy of the provision that has been made for it.
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, could I just maybe make an additional comment to that, because, I think, whilst I would agree in part with what Mr Fitzsimons was saying, I think maybe there is another element to it, and that is that, whilst this document is an historical document, it is also based on the 1996 Order.

  18.  I am about to come to that, Mr Topping, the new Order and the Code of Practice, because I think that is more what we should be interested in than what happened two years ago, but I was only trying to establish, by means of what I thought was a relatively simple question, whether or not there was a consensus of fact, at least, on that basis. The advantage we have with, of course, the Audit Office draft Report, is that, in paragraphs 5.25 and the ten paragraphs thereafter, they actually do set out some of the things that they were looking for and found missing in the papers that they looked at. And what I am trying to establish here is, do you accept, as representatives of the respective Boards, that those criticisms were founded in the documents, which, I have to say, you must have provided them with, in the first place?
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, can I maybe make a comment on that, too. I think, in fact, that maybe the answer that I was going to give goes on to answer the question that Mr Browne has asked, because I think that the Audit Report looked at a situation under the 1996 Order, where, obviously, we were working to a certain regime and working within a certain framework. I think then they go on in the Audit Report to say, in fact, best practice has shown that the Code of Practice, when it comes into operation, will give us much more information and much more detailed information. So that I think, within the Audit Report, as I have read it, it seems to be suggesting that the amount of information and the kind of information that is available could be improved and the practice could be improved, and I think we do accept that, we do accept that the Code of Practice is a better way of doing it, and the information we will get, as a result of the Code of Practice, will allow us to make better provision and make better judgements. And I think that is what the document says, and we do accept that, I think it would be fair to say.

  19.  That brings me now exactly to why I do not think Mr Beggs's question was answered, because I think Mr Beggs's question was designed to convey that to you and to ask you what arrangements you had put in place to ensure that the new legislation and the new Code of Practice would work properly, and that the new, more specific objectives, which were set out in there, would be met. But I listened very carefully to the answers and all that was ever said about that was that the new legislation and the new Code of Practice would improve the situation. What we are interested to know is, what have you actually done to improve this set of circumstances that the Audit Office identified?
  (Mr Topping)  That is a very fair question, Chairman, and I think what we have been doing over the last few years is planning, in a fair amount of detail, towards the implementation of the 1996 Order. Now part of that has been training, every single teacher who is going to act as a SENCo., for example. A key role under the new legislation, will be fulfilling that particular responsibility and will be looking at how the annual reviews will affect provision; so we are training people. We have also been putting in place new administrative machinery and refining our administrative machinery. Every single school, certainly, I think, in probably all of our Boards, and maybe this can be confirmed, but I think every single school in all of our Boards has actually been made aware of the implications of the 1996 Order and the Code of Practice and what it means for them. So I think we have taken significant steps already towards making sure that the kind of information we need and the kind of information which is better practice is in place.

Chairman:  A Division has now been called and the bell is just beginning to sound. It is now five past five, I am going to suspend the sitting till twenty past five and then we will resume the examination.

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