Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 40 - 53)



  40.  The Audit Report was published, for the record, or certainly ordered to be printed, on 7 July, so it is a fairly recent document, and, in a sense, I am surprised to hear that you are still arguing about facts, and things, with this Report, at this late date, bearing in mind it has been ordered to be printed by this House. One of the things I would like to ask about is that it suggests, on page 11, in paragraph 21, there would be greater freedom to determine how resources would be used to meet the needs of a statemented pupil if greater use of LMS was applied to mainstream funding. Would you agree with that?
  (Mr Topping)  Yes, Chairman, that is just what I have said.

  41.  Also, some of the figures suggest that, across the Boards, and I do not say this critically, I just say this is seen to be a factual situation, some of the unit costs, as between one Board and another, seem to vary very greatly. Is that a worry to the respective Chief Executives, that that should be so?
  (Mr Topping)  Can I maybe just make a general statement, then Mr Martin might want to comment. I think, Chairman, yes, we want to bench-mark all our services, we want to make sure that we are performing as well as we can, and obviously comparing like with like is a very important issue. I think the reality is that we are not comparing like with like, but Mr Martin may want to comment on that.
  (Mr Martin)  I think that is precisely the point. We would want unit costs to be broadly in line, in fact, very closely in line. I think, possibly, at the moment, we have not got sufficiently accurate measurements to ensure that we are comparing like with like. For example, if you take the costs of some of our special schools, the outreach teachers are based there, and our systems have been constructed to record financial information rather than good management information, and I think that in many cases we are not comparing like with like. But, yes, it would be a source of concern if there were significant differences in unit costs when we were comparing like with like.

  42.  A couple of figures which I pulled out, unit costs for severe learning difficulties, 29 per cent higher in the South Eastern Board than Belfast, for example; even if your methods of recording information were not quite what you would like, that seems quite a big differentiation, almost a third higher?
  (Mr McCullough)  Chairman, if I could maybe make some comment on that, because there is a reason for it. Our SLD numbers have exploded, basically, over the last eight or nine years, and, in our particular situation, the two schools are completely full, the classes are oversubscribed, and the more children you have in a class per teacher the more your unit costs fall. Other schools may not be in that situation, Boards may be maintaining a resource which is required in a country area, where, if you take it away, it is not easy to replace and the next provision may be 20 miles away, and you cannot take, for example, a unit out and send children on buses for hours.
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  I would argue that, in terms of SLD children, in particular, the nature of their handicap makes it very difficult for comparisons to be made. So that is the first thing. It depends on the nature and extent of the handicap as to how the staffing will change. The other aspect also is, it relates also to the state of repair of buildings, and it also relates to whether, in fact, we have temporary buildings, and quite a number of SLD schools which we have in our Board were transferred to us from the health authorities and they are old buildings and quite a lot of them have temporary accommodation there, so there are greater costs. But I agree entirely with you that an accounting officer, or chief executive, has got to bench-mark, and has got to make sure, if there is a difference then there is an explanation for that difference.

  43.  Thank you for that. Can I just round this point off in this way, Chair. On emotional and behavioural difficulties, a different subject, costs were 38 per cent higher in the Southern Board than the South Eastern Board——
  (Mrs McClenaghan)  Chairman, if I may take that, and, in fact, refer to the earlier comment I made, which was that the entire difference can be accounted for by the fact that one is boarding, and boarding costs are included, and the other is non-boarding.

  44.  So you say the Audit Report just made a mistake?
  (Mrs McClenaghan)  They overlooked the differences between the two establishments. But, if I might go back to an earlier point which you made, Mr Hesford, about the cost of units, that must be a particular concern to the Southern Board because we have 750 children in 63 units, that would be our main provision; 150 children, approximately, are in the special schools, which are the SLD. So that we would be saying that our unit provision is a little bit more than MLD, it must be reaching up and making provision for SLD children also. And I refer again to a remark which I made earlier. Given that all those units are funded through the LMS scheme, greater standardisation there will have its output, in terms of pupil costs, certainly unit costs have been similar, if not virtually identical.

  45.  The reason I raised those, Chair, was to draw the point to a close. How, if the panel could assist me, could LMS, or LMSS, assist to iron out those differences, if at all?
  (Mrs McClenaghan)  LMSS will not affect the units.
  (Mr Martin)  Chairman, LMSS might help to iron out uniformity of costs; whether it will provide the most effective provision, is another matter, because of the differences in the severity of the situation that has to be provided for. Our ultimate concerns must be, of course, that we get value for money, but also that we are making effective provision for the individual needs of the individual child. They have to be met, whatever they cost, and maybe a formula will not do this. It will be particularly difficult, but if it is necessary we will do it. But it will be particularly difficult to devise a formula that will most effectively cater for the individual needs of individual children.
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  I would think you will probably have to maintain a pretty high contingency figure, centrally, to actually iron out the peaks and troughs. The real value of LMS is the fact that you give control of the budget to the people who are actually spending it, and they, therefore, can, at a local level, deploy resources more effectively and efficiently; that is the value of it. But there is a crudity about a formula-funded scheme, in that the peaks and troughs, which Mr Topping referred to, very often can be catered for in the mainstream school, and in the larger the school it is sometimes easier, but, in some of the smaller special schools, where you have children with severe handicaps, then those children must not suffer because of circumstances which are outside the control of the school. So a contingency budget would have to be there to allow schools to bid for unforeseen circumstances so that the children do not suffer.

  46.  I have to say, I was surprised when the headteacher that I referred to previously made the case that he did, because, from what I could see, the present arrangement was working very well in his school, covering the point that Mr Martin made, which was slightly at variance with the point Mr Topping made, when I asked what was the sort of overall view about LMS, in principle. Do you wish to revise anything that you said?
  (Mr Martin)  Chairman, just to make clear what I was saying, I am in agreement that there is merit in considering LMSS, because, as Mr Fitzsimons said, it gives the use of the resources to those who are closest to the ground, and that has been the philosophy underlying the whole issue of LMS since it was introduced ten years ago. But what I am saying is that, while agreeing that there is merit in the case, we must balance that. I think both of us are actually on exactly the same wavelength; we have to balance the merits of that kind of use of resources with the need to ensure that the individual needs of individual children are met. And if we can do that through a refinement of a formula, by all means let us do so. So we are not at variance, Chairman.
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, might I say, no, I do not really want to change it at all. I think Mr Martin has actually answered the question for me. I think we are saying the same thing, we are coming at it maybe from two different angles. I think we are all saying that LMSS is, in principle, a good idea, but there are problems and issues that have to be addressed in order to make it effective.

Mr Robinson

  47.  I hope you will indulge me at least to the extent that I may revisit one or two of the areas that have already been the subject of some questioning, in particular, the questioning that came from Mr Browne, in relation to evaluating the effectiveness. The fact that I revisit should, in itself, be an indication that I was not altogether convinced, or satisfied, by the responses that Mr Browne received, and I think his were an effort to come in after Mr Beggs got responses that did not satisfy him. So perhaps, with that in mind, you will respond to these questions knowing that there are some doubters in front of you. If I were a parent of a child requiring either education in a special unit or a special school, or indeed if I were the Minister of Education, a statement which, under present circumstances, might strike fear into the hearts of members of the Board, I think I would be wanting to ensure that there was an effective and valuable service right across the Province, no matter what geographical area the child may reside in, that it was as effective in a special unit as it was in a special school, that the service itself was one that was considered to be of some priority to the Education and Library Boards, and I have to say that the general impression I get is that it is dealt with in a very bureaucratic way. The Audit Report appals me, when I see the delays between the initial suggestion that a statement is required and when eventually some action is taken on it, sometimes up to four times the length of time that is deemed appropriate is taken. Now all of that suggests to me that it is not really a top priority for the Education and Library Boards, and it seems to be a bit of a bother, and I think that it would be useful if you tried to convince us that this is a priority, that you are energetically attempting to establish what the best means of providing that special education is, that it is effectively being monitored, in spite of what the Audit Report is saying, because, at this moment in time, I have to say, I am not convinced?
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, I am sure all of us will want to make a comment on this one, because we would want to convince Mr Robinson that we do take this as a high priority, and to convince the Committee that it is a high priority for us, and, not least, to convince the parents that it is a high priority for us. First of all, could I maybe pick up just some of the points that Mr Robinson has mentioned; first of all, the bureaucratic point, which, obviously, to somebody in the public service, hits hard. I think the bureaucracy that is within the process, and I would have to admit that it is bureaucratic, is laid down in legislation; it came through when the Warnock Report, back in the Seventies, was put into legislation, which eventually came through to our 1986 Order. It is a statutory process, there are statutory time limits to meet in that legislation, in the 1986 legislation. Now, secondly, in terms of the delays, I think we would have to admit that there have been delays, for a variety of reasons, delays which we, as people who are responsible for the services, are not happy with, and we have done all in our power to make sure that those delays have been reduced. And, interestingly enough, we have tried to update some of the figures that are in the Audit Report, two years on, and there are significant improvements in the delays that Mr Robinson has pointed to; and those delays, of course, the timescales, will be put into legislation through the Code of Practice, so that when the Code of Practice comes into operation, in September, we will have certain deadlines that we have to meet, to make sure that the process, bureaucratic though it still may be, is done within certain time limits. So, from that point of view, I would hope to have convinced, on those two points, Mr Robinson that we do take things seriously, and we do take the service that we provide seriously, and we do want it to be a high quality service. And, as I said at the start, we are proud of what we have achieved so far; that is not to say we cannot improve, and we hope that this process will help us make that improvement. But there are other points I know Mr Robinson mentioned, and I know other colleagues want to speak.
  (Mr Martin)  Chairman, can I just take up two points, and I know there are others, but I want to deal with these in particular. About 15 years ago, I was an Assistant Education Officer for Special Education and, at that time, the only support that was available within the Boards to support special education was the Education Psychology Service. Now you have heard described today the kind of outreach support that is now available, peripatetic teachers, outreach support, to support the process that is going on in the schools. I hope that this, by itself, is an indication of the very significant additional support, particularly in terms of people, that has been put in to support special education, which has been transformed out of all recognition during that period of time. So I would say that all Boards do take it very seriously, and that is one indicator of the seriousness with which they take it. A second point. You are very concerned to ensure, and quite rightly so, and we are equally concerned, that there is an equally effective support system throughout the whole of Northern Ireland, regardless of where pupils live. We have taken a lot of steps, within the past number of years, to try to ensure that this takes place. There are common criteria for assessment and for statementing; we have addressed this over the broad range of categories, and I think you will find that a pupil who has a particular need in an area, regardless of where that area is, will receive broadly the same level of support. In some cases, it may be in a special unit, in other cases it may be in a special school. To some extent, that is the product of the historical inheritance which we have got, because that was the provision that was built up by the previous local education authorities. But I would say that, whether it is in a special school or a special unit, it is equally effective, and we are satisfied about that. So there has been a great deal of commonality, and while there are always weaknesses in any system, I think that, broadly speaking, we could stand over the point that there is a commonality of approach and a commonality of treatment throughout the five Education and Library Boards. Now there are other points I know that you raised and others may wish to pick those up.
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  I think that I would have to accept, to a certain extent, the criticism that Mr Robinson has made about the evaluation and the monitoring. Clearly, the Code of Practice is intended to improve the mechanism for doing that. But that will not be easily achieved, because the people who will be involved in that will be teachers. And one of the things, I think, we have to be clear about is that in education it is very difficult to get targets; the targets we are looking for in mainstream, very often, are examination results, those are the targets we have at the moment. Special education development is not that, it is about the holistic development of the child; some of the things are not quantifiable, some are qualitative measures, but we have, nevertheless, got to attempt to improve that and we have got to satisfy the parents and the children that, in fact, progress is being made, if children can understand that. And we have got to also make sure that the resources, and we have talked about the efficient use of resources, but one of the major issues, and this is related to the importance which we give to special education, the more money we put into special education in our Boards the less money we have available for mainstream schools, because that money is being taken out of the general schools budget. And one of the major problems we have at the moment is that, with the expansion of demand for special education, and John here has identified the number of syndromes, the number of new categories which have emerged since the Warnock Report, and the increasing demand for statementing, then we have increasing demands for resources to be expended. And one of the major issues concerning us is the implementation of the Code. If the Code is to be implemented, then the educational system in Northern Ireland will have to change radically. The Code was designed for a comprehensive education system in England and Wales: the structure of education is different in Northern Ireland, where we have streaming and setting, and, therefore, there is a change which will be required there, if we are going to go down the integrationist way. Also, in terms of the actual education plans which each teacher has to draw up for children with special education, and the role of SENCo will require a lot of training, and, more importantly, time for teachers to do this, because all teachers are going to be involved in it. Now that is a major change and it will involve resources, and there has got to be a recognition that additional resources have got to be provided. The other issue is about the investment in the capital resource in special education, there needs to be increased investment there, and over the past number of years in Northern Ireland we have not had investment in capital provision. And it is important that that is developed also, because that will also contribute to a better image and a better provision for our children. The other additional issue is that if we move down the line of integration of special needs children, particularly of children with disabilities, into mainstream education, many of our secondary schools, in particular, are two-storey buildings and will need major adaptation to cater for children who have physical disabilities. So those are some of the aspects which I think we have got to be concerned about. We feel very strongly about special education, because they are children who require our support and our attention, we are concerned perhaps about some of the children not being picked up early enough in schools, and particularly early years in schools, that early intervention is a key factor here, investment in nursery education is important. The other issue concerns the assessment of children. We face a dilemma, with the introduction of the Code, in that Stage 3 of the Code requires the involvement of psychologists at school level in helping teachers to develop and evaluate education programmes for children with special needs. If they are going to be involved there, there is going to be less time for them to be involved in assessment, and that is an issue, because at the present moment we do not have sufficient psychologists, nor are there sufficient psychologists being trained in Northern Ireland to meet the increasing demands for assessment, and that is a very serious issue.

  48.  Mr Chairman, I just want to make sure I am reading this Audit Report right. But it seems to me appalling, if I am reading it right, that the duration of the statementing process, taking the worst example, which is the North Eastern Education and Library Board, where, from beginning to end, it is two years; well, a child, from beginning to end, having two years while somebody is evaluating their needs, will have gone through a fair bit of their education by the time that somebody has made an assessment of them, and probably the most valuable years. And, from a constituency point of view, I have people coming to me; the two main problems I have in this area are, first of all, the length of time it takes for their child to be evaluated and to be put into the appropriate place for them to get their education, and the second is the complaint that I get, time after time, "If only I had lived somewhere else I would be able to get A, B and C". Now it seems to me quite appalling that we have to wait two years, and I assume that these are averages, so perhaps in many of the cases it is well over the two years, before we can have the child properly evaluated?
  (Mr McCullough)  Can I, Chairman, pick up some of the points there about timings, because, obviously, the Boards are very keen to improve on what you have got before you, and that is historical, and I am very conscious that we are moving towards, in September, an 18-week period during which assessments will have to be completed from beginning to end. But there are factors relating to timings. When advices are requested from psychologists, because when the Board draws up a statement it does that as a result of receiving information from other parties, from schools, from psychologists, from medical officers, from therapists, and so forth, so we are depending completely on others making returns to us. Then, thereafter, the speed with which the statement can be produced within the Board depends on the availability of resources, at particular times, and also the availability of places, because you cannot actually complete a statement for a school if there is no place to go to, or provide a resource when there is no provision available. And, I think the point has already been made, we are in an area where you are taking from one child to give to another child; that is never easy. We certainly do need resources to cover the number of children who are going through the statementing procedure, and I can predict that, under the new Code of Practice, the number of children with statements, the number of children going through the assessment procedure, will increase, and therefore the demands will be greater. In regard to educational advice, schools are off for nine weeks during the summer, so during that period assessments cannot be completed, we can receive nothing from schools, and advices are not necessarily completed within the first week that schools come back or the week before they went off, it may be a period of time; that delay is built into the system.

  49.  So are you saying that professional advisers can only operate during school time?
  (Mr McCullough)  Schools are off for nine weeks during the summer, so that is taken into account in regard to the period of time that it takes to complete assessments. Psychological advice has already been alluded to. There are competing priorities under the new Code of Practice, and indeed when that evaluation took place as well. Psychologists are crucial, because they produce the psychological advice at Stage 4. They are also involved, as has been indicated, at Stage 3, in regard to informal assessments in schools, and in support for schools under Stage 3. They are also involved under Stage 5 because, when we assess a child, and statement a child and make provision for a child, we try to support that child and review that child in special placements. We have talked about this in respect of annual reviews, and so forth. So it is a balance. We are taking provision from Stage 3 or Stage 5 to move to Stage 4, and it is Stage 4 now where we are facing the time limits. We have already indicated that there were difficulties in regard to recruiting psychologists, it is not just a matter of going out and recruiting more psychologists; eight new psychologists came off the training course at Queen's University this year and there are 13 jobs to be filled across the Boards in Northern Ireland; there are therefore five posts that cannot be filled. So that is impacting upon our ability to complete assessments as well, even going into the 18-week period that we will be going into come September. In regard to medical advice, Health and Social Services respond as best they can but they, too, have difficulty in regard to their own resourcing levels. We cannot complete statements without them completing their assessments and giving us the information. Frequently, parents of children who have no medical problems cannot understand the need for their children to have a medical assessment, so they do not go for the medical examination. If they do not go for a medical assessment the statement cannot be completed; and situation can run on for month after month. It may well be that there is a case for some change, because we require the medical assessment, it is part of the legislation, and we cannot complete the statement without it. Perhaps it would be reasonable for medical assessments to be required only for children where there were known medical problems, and the medical examiners know those children because they have all the medical records; that would speed up the procedure considerably.
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, can I maybe just address the specific issues I think that Mr Robinson has stated.

  50.  Before you do that, I wonder, again, it is a matter of whether I am reading this report right, but it seems to indicate, to me, that, again, taking the North Eastern Education and Library Board as the example, in terms of the professional advice, there has been a fair concentration on the delays in relation to the professional advice, but, if I look at the North Eastern Education and Library Board, the time taken by the professional advice, for instance, in the most recent, it seems to vary, depending on which end it is at, but it does not seem to be a large portion of the overall time taken for the evaluation. What happens as soon as you get the professional advice that is delaying the process?
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, could I just address both those points then, and the other points that Mr Robinson mentioned earlier, because it is the North Eastern Board he is referring to. I think, first of all, there are two elements, there is a series of elements but there are two distinct elements in this process. The first one is asking and receiving the advice, and I think Mr McCullough has explained that in a very detailed way; but there then is an evaluation of that advice, a production of a draft statement, a discussion with parents and then making the provision. Now I just want to make two points, in terms of the timescale. I have to agree with Mr Robinson that a two-year delay in making a statement is unsatisfactory, and we have tackled that, so that in the two years since that Report has been compiled we have actually addressed that and the rates are substantially improved, and we will be meeting the Code of Practice when it comes into operation. Having said that, I think there is another point, and the other point is that even though it may take a lengthy time to complete a statement in that report that does not mean to say that a child is not getting the requisite provision, there are possibilities within the legislation to make temporary placements and to make sure that the child is getting the requisite provision, even though the paperwork, if you like, is not complete. And I would like to think, although it is a bureaucratic system that you have identified and it is a legalistic and statutory system that you have identified, nevertheless, we are human in the way we deal with people and caring in the way we deal with people. As far as parents or individuals saying, "If I only lived somewhere else then I could get" whatever the provision is, I have not heard that said, let us put it that way, first of all, but if it is being said and if it is true, we are certainly tackling that and we are tackling it in a number of ways, we are tackling it at a variety of levels. First of all, we have regional provision, where Boards are making provision on a regional basis for the whole of the Province. Secondly, we are making provision locally where we can make that provision locally, and make sure it is viable. And, thirdly, through our structures of the designated officers meeting together, we are ensuring that what we are doing is compatible and that the provision that we are making is, as far as possible, equitable, but that, at the back of it all, young people get equality of opportunity.
  (Mrs McClenaghan)  I would like to come in, Sir, just on that point. The Southern Board appears to come out of that reasonably well, but you will see that at its maximum it could have been a period in 1996 of as long as 16 months, and while, as my colleague was saying, there were placements going on during that time, the timescale is now six months and we have obviously much further to go. It is ever so much harder when you are near the target to get on target. The second thing is, I think, Chairman, I would say that there is not one person in this room who could not easily step into the shoes of a parent of a handicapped child, or may be indeed the parent of a handicapped child, or very close to it, who may have looked that prospect in the face. And if I were such a parent, not only would I want a fast timescale, and particularly an indication of action at the outset, I would want what I would call the named person, in other words, I would not want to be pushed from person to person. And that is another achievement which I believe the Boards have managed to bring about over the last while, that in every document that emerges from the Board there is a named person who is available to be contacted, to make a visit, or to be in touch in whatever way a parent feels would meet his, or her, needs at that time. And the third thing I would say, as a prospective parent of a child with a handicap, is that within the limitations that I would have to recognise I would want some element of choice, to be absolutely satisfied that the provision which was being made met my child's needs, and I think, Sir, what you have heard coming through this afternoon has been that Boards are prepared to be flexible about money. The special education budget may not be earmarked but it does mean, in Boards such as my own, that year on year a greater proportion of the total allocation to the Board goes on special education; in some years it may be an increase of 10 per cent, in other years, as in this year, we are budgeting for an increase of 5 per cent on top of inflation. And that shows, I hope, the sort of centrality of this issue that touches every one of our hearts. Those who are most closely working with it find it, understandably, quite a stressful situation, and their pleasure and sense of achievement is when that parent agrees a statement and the parent is convinced that that will serve the purposes of the child. I conclude by saying that I believe the Boards have made considerable progress towards doing that, and, of course, more will always remain to be done.

Chairman:  I am conscious that we normally seek to conclude examinations of this sort by 6 o'clock, as a par for the course, which, in this particular case, obviously, has extended to 6.15 because of the quarter of an hour break that we had, and we are now quite clearly into injury time beyond that. It is in no way a reflection upon the evidence which we have been given, and we are grateful to you for the length of time that you have gone on, but it is the case, of course, that, with five witnesses, speaking for different parts of the Province, it has inevitably been the case on a number of occasions that we have actually had to take evidence from several of you on particular questions. But I know that Mr Browne, for instance, was actually going to ask a number of quite different questions, which he has not asked at all, because he wanted to return to Mr Beggs's questions. What I propose to do is to ask Mr Beggs to ask a final question at this stage. In cricketing terms, we will draw stumps at 6.30, i.e. in five minutes' time, but it is possible that we might want to convene again in the autumn, but that would be a decision for the Committee as a whole to take. Mr Beggs.

Mr Beggs

  51.  Thank you, Chairman. I am sure everyone would agree that the identification of children with a special need should not depend on the level and competence or ability to articulate those needs by parents in any particular area. Much of the written evidence from voluntary organisations refers to difficulties parents have in communicating with Board officers; furthermore, parents' concerns in this area have been well documented. Given the increased emphasis on parental involvement and partnership, what are Boards doing to address such problems?
  (Mr Topping)  Chairman, could I maybe just take that and mention a few points, and I am sure my colleagues will want to maybe add to that, and in abbreviated form, because of the time. I think, first of all, as Mrs McClenaghan has said, every statement that goes out, and every communication with the parent, has a named officer, so that this is the first thing, the parent knows who to talk to. I think the second thing is that we meet parents, face to face, when there are a number of complex and sometimes quite detailed, in terms of language, statements that come to parents, there is somebody comes and explains that to them, in many cases it is an education welfare officer. Thirdly, many of our officers will go out and speak to the voluntary groups, who are made up, very often, of parents, who have concerns, and will explain to them and will become accessible to them. I think the problem that we have found is not necessarily the problem of linking to that named officer, the problem is trying to follow up all the various advisers who are giving advice, and parents seem to think that they would like, and you can understand why, to run around and make sure the advisers are actually providing that advice and chasing them up. That is not necessary; the named officer and our officers will do that. But certainly we are taking steps to try to improve our availability and our contact with parents. I do not know if anybody wants to add to that, Chairman.
  (Mr Fitzsimons)  I think we can always improve on communication, and that is something that all Boards are looking at. An important dimension also is not just for parents of children who are about to be statemented, it is involvement of parents at an early stage, and that involvement needs to take place at school level. And the Code clearly indicates that parents need to be involved at an earlier level, first of all, in terms of knowing what special education provision is made in the school, and, if their child is having problems, early communication between the teacher and the child at the various stages, and that is being done. It does become chronic at a later stage, where a child is experiencing extreme difficulty, and we understand and empathise with the delays which take place, but it is a complex system, and communication can be improved, and I think we, as Boards, will want to build on what we have done already, both in terms of literature and also in terms of contact with parents. One of the things which we are trying to do is to carry out regular customer surveys, to ascertain from parents what they feel about the provision. Certainly, the involvement of parents in support and attendance at activities in special schools is very high and it is far above that, for example, in mainstream schools.
  (Mr Martin)  Chairman, could I make one point. It is just picking up Mr Beggs's initial statement that the identification of need should not depend on the ability of parents to articulate their needs. One of the things that we have developed greatly in recent years is the identification of children at an early stage, and this is done very often by people working on the medical side, by the support services within the medical profession, who are identifying those for us, so that the parents have a range of support people within the medical system who identify those needs to us. And I think that is particularly important. The other thing is that we actually do support pupils at the pre-school stage, once they have been identified. So that is a two-way system there, even where parents do not approach us; we have a way of picking up identified needs, as identified by others.

  52.  Just a very short one, Chairman. Are you satisfied that teachers and Principals have had sufficient training to enable them to identify, at the earliest possible stage in a child's career, need, and could more emphasis be given in the training of teachers, to focus attention on the need to identify children with specific needs, because too often I find that the parent is the one who identifies a problem and then panics when it is almost too late?
  (Mr Topping)  Yes, Chairman, I think we do recognise the need for additional training for our teachers, and particularly our Principals, so that, as far as possible, no-one slips through the net.


  53.  Thank you, very warmly. The fact that this session has overrun and that we may well want to return to it in the autumn is an index of the importance attached to the subject on both sides of the table. We will have a discussion among ourselves as to whether we would like to have a further session, which we would obviously seek to make as convenient as possible. Thank you very much indeed for the manner in which you have answered questions today, and, as I said right at the beginning, if at any stage you want to gloss anything that has been said please do not hesitate to let us have it in writing.
  (Mr Topping)  Can I just say, Chairman, on behalf of my colleagues, thank you, to you and the Members, first of all, for picking this issue up, which we think is a very significant issue, and, secondly, for your courtesy, in listening to us at times through quite lengthy explanations. Thank you.

Chairman:  Thank you.

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