Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence



Further Memorandum from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland

NI AFFAIRS COMMITTEE: SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS

FURTHER WRITTEN QUESTIONS FOR DENI

1. According to the DENI memorandum, the number of children with statements is increasing. One of the reasons given for this is that more children with profound and/or multiple mental and physical handicaps are surviving to school age and beyond. Additionally, in Northern Ireland there is a relatively higher reported incidence of certain conditions (e.g., Down's Syndrome and Spina Bifida). Given such factors, how can DENI justify the continued use in Northern Ireland of the Warnock estimate of 2 per cent of children requiring statements, which was calculated in 1978 (and has always been open to debate)?

  The Department accepts that this estimate is now outdated. It was used in the Department's SEN Code of Practice (paragraph 2.2)—and also in the Code of Practice for England and Wales—to indicate broadly to schools that only a small proportion of pupils are likely to have needs which would require reference to an Education and Library Board for formal assessment. It is not used by DENI for any administrative purposes. In particular, it is not used to determine levels of funding for special education or to set a quota for the number of statements which should be in force at any one time.

2. The selection procedure which operates in Northern Ireland would seem to mitigate against the inclusive culture promoted by the Government. Could the Department provide the information on:

    (i)  the members of statemented pupils in mainstream education in primary, secondary and grammar schools by management type;

    (ii)  the number of pupils with statements who entered the transfer tests and what grades these pupils got;

    (iii)  the correlation, if any, between the proportion of statemented pupils in a school and the proportion entitled to free schools meals;

    (iv)  the breakdown of children with statements by gender.

  The information sought at (i) and (iv) is shown in the Annex, page 86. Re: (ii), the placements of pupils with statements are determined by the Education and Library Boards and such pupils are not entered for the Transfer Procedure. Re: (iii), no information is available as to whether any correlation exists between the proportion of statemented pupils in a school and the proportion of pupils entitled to free school meals.

3. Mainstream schools are reluctant to accept children with special educational needs, especially those with emotional and behavioural difficulties, because of the adverse effect that these pupils may have on the school's image and its position in the market place. What extra funding is provided to a school to support a statemented child? How does the Department plan to encourage mainstream schools to take statemented pupils?

  Education and Library Boards provide directly to a mainstream school any necessary additional educational resource specified in a pupil's statement of special educational needs. Responsibility for making any non-educational provision which might also be so specified depends on the nature of the provision (e.g., home to school transport is provided by the Education and Library Board; para-medical therapies are provided by the responsible HSS Trust).

  Section 3 of the Department's initial memorandum illustrated the recent increase in numbers of statemented children placed in mainstream schools.

 
Special schools
Special units
Mainstream
 NumberPer centNumberPer centNumberPer cent
1990-913,800709401774013
1993-944,390611,400201,36019
1996-974,680551,600192,17026

  The statutory presumption in favour of a mainstream placement for statemented children will remain. The Department recognises, however, the excellence of the highly specialised provision available in special schools in Northern Ireland and the strength of parental confidence and support which they enjoy. At the same time, it wishes to improve further the choices available to parents and will, in conjunction with Boards and schools, be seeking ways to improve the quality of special educational needs provision available in mainstream schools. This will include an examination of confidence building measures in dealing with statemented children, including developing outreach support, strengthening the role of special schools as mainstream resource centres and improving curricular and social links between sectors. In response to the concerns from schools, the published school performance tables include information on the number of statemented pupils.

4. In the light of the NIAO report and the identified lack of completeness and consistency of the information DENI receives from the Boards, what steps have been taken to clarify with the Boards the information it requires and how this should be provided? What plans does DENI have for a more thorough and meaningful analysis of the information collated by them from the Boards?

  The Education and Library Boards have been well aware of the Department's requirements for statistical and financial information, an account of which was included in DENI's supplementary memorandum to the Committee dated 10 July 1998.[1] These requirements have required regular routine review, in consultation with the Boards, in order to adapt to changing information needs. With the implementation of the new SEN Code of Practice from September 1998, more detailed central monitoring of assessment activity by Boards will be required, in which context the activity returns referred to in paragraph 5.14 of the NI Audit Office report are being revised.

  The Boards have recently established a Regional Special Education Group to seek improvements in consistency of policy and practice, including information gathering and monitoring. The Department welcomes this as facilitating the production of more reliable and consistent management information and will be liaising closely with the Group.

5. In the Department's memorandum, Section 2 describes the allocation of resources for pupils with special educational needs to mainstream schools but without statements and refers to debate and consultation on this topic. Would the Department elaborate on this, particularly in relation to:

    (i)  the matching of funds to identified pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools; and

    (ii)  any plans to require the reporting by mainstream schools of their actual expenditure on special educational needs.
        (i) During recent months, the Department, in consultation with Education and Library Boards and the Council for Catholic Maintained Schools has been considering the various elements which might form a common LMS formula for all nursery, primary and secondary schools in Northern Ireland. Our present thinking is that special educational needs (other than statemented pupils who are provided for outside the formula) are best addressed by a combination of social need allocations based on free school meals and educational need allocations based on assessment outcomes. Full details have not yet been determined.

        (ii) Article 9(5) of the Education (NI) Order 1996 requires that a school's policy with regard to provision for special educational needs should be set out in its annual report. General Inspection Reports now comment more specifically on the provision which is made for pupils with special educational needs. The Department is now considering an NI Audit Office recommendation that schools should account separately for the expenditure of that part of their delegated budget intended for special educational needs.

6. The NIAO report highlights the fact that if a pupil transfers from a mainstream to a special school during a school year, as a result of a statement having been issued, the funding "attached" to that pupil remains with the mainstream school. What action does the Department intend to take to remedy this situation?

  The number of pupils transferring from mainstream education to a special school part way through the school year is small and items of equipment (e.g., special learning aids) already allocated to a statemented pupil would automatically transfer with the pupil. The resources involved are therefore minimal, especially seen in the context of the other factors that can change in the schools budgets in-year.

7. What is the Department's view on the Local Management of Special Schools? What plans does it have to introduce this in Northern Ireland?

  Since April 1993, special schools have had partial delegation of funding under Article 55 of the Education Reform (NI) Order 1989. This decision followed recommendations made by a DENI/Board working group, which expressed strong reservations about the compatibility of full LMSS with a number of essential characteristics of the special school sector, and reported that consultation with special schools had indicated no significant demand for full delegation. The Department has no plans to introduce LMSS at present.

8. One of the major issues in schools in England recently has been the national standards for SENCOs from the Teacher Training Agency and the argument that there should be a formal qualification. What is the Department's view on this issue from the Northern Ireland perspective?

  The Department's view is that teachers should be encouraged to undertake professional qualifications which would enhance their experience and expertise, though at this early stage of the implementation of the Code of Practice in Northern Ireland it is not considered appropriate to require the possession of such a qualification. A SENCO training module has already been made available to schools to facilitate in-school training linked to the Computerised Local Administration System for Schools (CLASS) system. All post-primary schools have been trained in the use of the module and this will be extended to the larger primary schools in this academic year.

9. In Northern Ireland, parents and pressure groups have expressed concerns about both the statementing and tribunal process. Furthermore, the experience in England has been that pressure groups have often sought to use the clear expectations set out in the Code of Practice to challenge existing practice in special education. How does DENI intend to address such problems?

  The SEN provisions of the Education (NI) Order 1996—including the SEN Tribunal and the additional guidance provided in the Code of Practice—have now been fully implemented and therefore already form a substantial part of "existing practice in special education". The new measures have generally been well received by voluntary and other representative groups and such concerns as have been drawn to the Department's attention have been addressed in discussion and correspondence with the concerned bodies. The Tribunal President has also met representatives of Boards and voluntary groups to hear their concerns at first hand and explain the tribunal's approach to the determination of appeals. The Department will continue to seek to address any further concerns in a co-operative spirit and in full consultation with all interests.

DENI

18 November 1998


ANNEX TO REPLY TO NORTHERN IRELAND AFFAIRS COMMITTEE

Question 2 (1)

  The number of statemented pupils in mainstream education in primary, secondary and grammar schools by management type is as follows:

      Primary
      Controlled — 595
      Voluntary/maintained — 653
      Integrated — 29
      TOTAL — 1,277

      Secondary
      Controlled — 454
      Maintained — 552
      Integrated — 56
      TOTAL — 1,062

      Grammar
      Controlled — 45
      Voluntary — 70

      TOTAL — 115

Question 2 (iv)

  The breakdown of children with statements by gender is as follows:

      Male — 5,274
      Female — 2,702
      TOTAL — 7,976


1  Ev. p. 87-89. Back

 
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