Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence


  At the meeting of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee held on 22 July 1998 we agreed to forward our response to the Northern Ireland Audit Office investigation into Special Education[3] which was forwarded to the Department of Education.

  I enclose a copy of the response for your information.



  It is pleasing to note that some of the issues raised in relation to the previous draft have been addressed but there are still areas of concern.

  Many of the recommendations are staff intensive and as staff are already over stretched how can these be taken forward without taking funding away from children and schools to appoint additional staff?

  The timing of this document is strange as it is reporting on a system that is in the process of change. Many of the issues raised will be addressed by the implementation of the new legislation.


  Paragraph 2.4

    Clarification is required as to the meaning of a "better point of contact". Within the NEELB there is normally a member of staff available who can deal with enquiries, but often people are unwilling to accept an answer other than one from the head of the Branch. Furthermore the present level of staffing cannot cope with any increased level of personal contact. Also it is important to highlight the use of the word "perceived" in this paragraph with regard to parents' perceptions of the cohesion with education and health services. The Special Education Branch in the NEELB has good lines of communications with the Health Trusts covering the NEELB.

  Paragraphs 2.8 and 2.9

    It is difficult to see how the suggestion of a panel, which would sit on an ad hoc basis, would work as resources are allocated on the basis of the needs of individual children.

  Paragraph 2.11-2.12

    The Board, in line with DENI policy as outlined in Circulars issued at the time of the 1984 Order, has always maintained that statements will only be required to protect resources which are not normally available. To do other than this would increase the number of statements far beyond the 2 per cent target which is used as measurement. Where assessments have taken place and no new resources are required, Notes in Lieu can be written. If this is not the case, it raises the question who should be responsible for the monitoring of children who do not require additional resources provided by the Board? Following the logic of this through would mean all children with special educational needs should be monitored by the Board. Where then does a Note in Lieu fit in? There would be significant staffing implications for the Board if monitoring any greater number of children.

  Paragraph 3.12

    A very slow process and health representatives are very reluctant to address individual issues. The health approach is that the levels of service provision should be negotiated locally.

  Figure 3

    Are the comparisons with equivalent local education authorities?

  Paragraph 2.18

    Reference is made to "greater precision" being required in criteria but is this what is meant? Precision will not change rates for assessing or maintaining statements, but higher thresholds in the criteria should.

  Paragraph 2.20

    There is a need for clear criteria, and the Designated Officers from all the Boards have met to discuss this issue and, as in other cases where this has been attempted, found it extremely difficult. If standardisation is an issue why is this not through the legislation or Code of Practice?

  Paragraph 2.21

    Will clear criteria help when it comes to a Tribunal?

  Paragraph 2.25

    Educational psychologists recognise the importance of maintaining the highest professional standards in the delivery of their service to schools, pupils and their families and on a province-wide basis, there are already in existence a number of mechanisms to support educational psychology services in this endeavour.

    All psychologists have the opportunity to come together under the umbrella of the Northern Ireland Educational Psychologists Group to discuss issues of common professional consideration.

    The Principal Educational Psychologists from the five Boards meet on a regular basis to discuss issues of a professional nature. Presently a sub-group of the Principal Educational Psychologists Group is meeting to look at methods for identifying pupils with dyslexia and hopefully this will provide a common framework for psychologists' work in the future.

    Queens University of Belfast provides continuing Professional Development Courses for all educational psychologists across the five Boards. This provides a common form of continuing training. Indeed, the majority of educational psychologists employed in the province have received their post-graduate professional training at QUB.

    The majority of practising educational psychologists in Northern Ireland are members of the British Psychological Society, which provides to its members a Code of Practice of professional behaviour, and information and guidance on professional practice issues. On this latter point, a division of the British Psychological Society, (The Division of Child Psychologists) and the Association of the Educational Psychologists have produced a joint guidance document, presently in draft form, which provides guidance to psychologists on assessment and on reporting. Psychologists in the Boards are giving cognisance to this document in their daily practice.

    It should also be noted that the clinical decisions which psychologists make regarding individual children would have a high degree of commonality from one psychologist to another. However, the practical implications of those clinical decisions have to be moderated within the context of each Education and Library Board's Special Educational Needs Policy and, within each Policy, the criteria which each Board uses for making provision for pupils who fall within the various categories of learning difficulties. In other words, how the needs of individual children will be met will be determined by local Board policy and criteria, and through the Designated Officer for special education. The implication of this process is that there should be a good working relationship between the Designated Officer and the Principal Educational Psychologist in each Board—this is the case in the NEELB and certain objectives in the Education Department Business Plan have been agreed by these officers so that on certain issues there can be co-ordinated action.

    Also, Education and Library Boards will deploy their psychology services differently. In the NEELB, the Educational Psychology Service is moving towards strategic deployment and its activities are becoming increasingly integrated with other Board services for example, the Education Welfare Service, the Youth Service and the Curriculum Advisory Support Service. This provides the Board with a framework for strategically deploying its staff so that schools and children's needs can be met appropriately across all stages of the Code of Practice. Using this thinking it is likely that educational psychologists will become increasingly involved in INSET with CASS officers, consultation with schools on broader educational issues (e.g., discipline/behaviour, child protection, bullying), and working with individual pupils prior to Stages Four/Five of the Code of Practice. This refocusing of the deployment of the Educational Psychology Service in this Board is consistent with views put forward in the recent Green Paper entitled "Meeting Special Educational needs" published in October 1997, in which it is recognised that educational psychologists employed by LEA's have wide responsibilities. The Green Paper says "We will explore ways of changing the balance of the work of educational psychologists (away from statutory assessment), so that they can use their expertise as productively as possible."

    In summary, three general points can be emphasised:

    1. There are mechanisms for developing and enhancing common professional standards among psychologists already in existence, and there is room for future development along these lines.

    2. Each Board should have the freedom to deploy its psychological service appropriate to local needs and local structures.

    3. It is likely that there will be changes to the nature of educational psychologists work as the recommendations of the Green Paper are implemented.

    DENI, in its discipline strategy document "Promoting and Sustaining Good Behaviour" published in February 1998, has indicated that the current functions of the Educational Psychology Service in each Board will be examined to determine the most efficient ways of working and making recommendations on freeing up educational psychologist's time. Those engaged in that task may wish to develop a common five-board approach in deciding the functions of the Educational Psychology Service, but which will allow flexibility on the deployment of the Educational Psychology Service in each Board to reflect local needs and structures.

  Figures 4 and 6

    Shows NEELB taking about 24 months for the statementing process over the period 1994-1997. However, the Special Education branch was only established in 1994 and that now there is no backlog of statements and the Board is working within the recommended timescale.

  Paragraph 2.28

    This paragraph would appear to be inaccurate regarding the Code of Practice and time scales.

  Paragraph 2.33

    NEELB has the SIMS management software so that there is compatibility with the software in schools which should facilitate electronic transfer of information in the future.

  Paragraph 2.35

    Indicates that "where educational and developmental objectives were stated in psychological advice these were weak". It is noted that this comment resulted from the examination of a random sample of statements across the five Boards from 1994 to 1996. Reference has already been made to the draft guidance for educational psychologists on the preparation of statutory advice, which only was circulated in the early part of 1996. Also, in March 1996, DENI published the draft Code of Practice on the identification and assessment of special educational needs. The draft regulations set out in this document indicate clearly what should be included in each part of the statement of special educational needs. Using these two documents as a framework, the educational psychology service in the NEELB is, developing a working document which provides psychologists with clear advice on carrying out assessments and on writing statutory psychological advice. This is ongoing work and should result in the enhanced quality of advice being submitted as part of formal assessment.

  Paragraph 2.37

    Refers to the lack of clearly established objectives in statements, but this is only a requirement this year.

  Paragraph 2.40

    There is no recognition of the difficulty with parents and schools when it is proposed to no longer maintain a statement.

  Paragraphs 4.13-4.15

    Devolution of resources would increase the monitoring of resources and probably require additional staff.

  Paragraph 4.16-4.30

    This is an area of on-going debate and as yet no definitive answer as to the most equitable method has been found. Each proxy has advantages and disadvantages. It is imperative not to reward schools for failure and penalise those doing a good job.

  Paragraph 5.16(a)

    States the information is not used in this way—to whom are they referring? In the NEELB, the unit costs are examined to facilitate comparisons of schools for the same learning difficulty and size. When there is a noticeable discrepancy, it is investigated.

  Paragraph 5.17

    In this report, what is seen as performance and improvement? This would depend on your perspective. If it is simply in financial terms there would be conflict with schools and parents regarding the needs of the pupils being met.

  Paragraph 5.22

    Consultative procedures are already in place in the NEELB.

  Paragraph 5.36

    With the limited number of staff available, the recommendation in this paragraph is unreasonable. If all psychologists and special education officers were to attend the annual reviews for all children attending special schools it would entail at least 27 hours of additional meeting time. This may not seem much but everyone already has more work to do than time allows.

  Paragraph 5.37

    As Boards are under pressure to reduce central administration, it is unlikely that there would be a redeployment of staff particularly at an appropriate level.

  Paragraph 5.41

    Does the legislation require schools to include Targeting Social Needs Funding in the report on their special needs provision?

  Appendix 1

    Is confusing. The first heading in the first column includes education psychology, and if the two asterisks are followed up the Central Support Services heading also includes educational psychology services. This casts doubt on the validity of the figures.

28 August 1998

3  Published as "Special Education in Northern Ireland: Report by the Comptroller and Auditor General for Northern Ireland", HC 898 (1997-98). Back

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 19 April 1999