Further Memorandum from
the Department of Education for Northern Ireland
SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS
When I gave oral evidence to the Northern Ireland
Affairs Committee on 25 November, I undertook that a written follow-up
would be provided on four matters.
The first related to your own request for certain
financial information, which was identified as particularly urgent,
and this was dealt with separately in my Department's letter of
1 December to the Committee Clerk.
I am now writing to provide the supplementary information relating
to the other three points.
The Committee sought further information about
the working relationships between the Education and Library Boards
and the Health and Social Services Boards. While there continues
to be ongoing communication, at a number of levelsDepartmental,
Board and Trustbetween the education and health services
in Northern Ireland, the Education (NI) Order 1996 and the Children
(NI) Order 1995 have required particular strengthening of collaborative
arrangements at Board level. In 1997, a Joint Regional Review
Group was established with representatives of each service.
The Review Group decided that its first priority
should be to address issues relating to Health and Social Services
provision in schools for children with special educational needs,
with the intention of devising a set of working principles to
secure the most effective delivery of medical, therapy and nursing
services to these children. The Review Group also intends to consider
arrangements and protocols for joint staff training; the promotion
and development of collaborative working; and joint care planning.
The Committee referred to the availability of
specialist services, that is, psychiatric and clinical psychology,
for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. I can
assure the Committee that mental health is a Government priority
in Northern Ireland and the need to further develop mental health
services for children and adolescents is recognised in the Northern
Ireland Regional Strategy for Health and Social Wellbeing 1997-2002.
In keeping with this strategy, Health and Social Services Boards
have been carrying out assessments of this need within their own
areas. At the same time, the Health and Social Services Executive
has been developing, in consultation with Boards, Trusts, professional
bodies, voluntary organisations, etc., a Policy Statement on Child
and Adolescent Mental Health Services. The Policy Statement will
identify the need for mental health service intervention when
a child or adolescent suffers emotional and/or behavioural problems.
During the Committee there was some discussion
of the inclusion of the results of statemented children in the
information published in the Department of Education's annual
School Performance Tables. The 1998 School Performance Tables
are due to be published later this month and I am pleased to confirm
that the column which detailed the number of statemented pupils
in Year 12 for each school has now been removed, together with
the results of these pupils. I believe that this decision will
help to encourage an increase in the number of these children
who are educated in mainstream schools, where statemented children
can take advantage of the best quality educational opportunities,
separate from the additional pressures created by the publication
of the School Performance Tables.
The final matter to which you referred related
to the relatively low proportion of secondary school age pupils
with statements in mainstream education who attend grammar schools.
I would wish to reassure the Committee that, notwithstanding the
general practice that children with statements are not entered
for the transfer procedure, the new statutory rights generally
available to parents under the Education (NI) Order 1996 apply
equally to decisions made by Boards about secondary school placements
at transfer stage.
In specific terms, all statements of special
educational needs are reviewed annually, and Boards give particularly
careful attention to the review immediately preceding a child's
transfer between phases, if necessary, bringing the date of that
review forward to allow sufficient time for consideration of all
the relevant advice, evidence and representations available to
Parents are fully consulted in all cases, enjoying
the statutory right to state their preference of secondary school
at transfer stage and indeed to request a change of grant-aided
school at a later date if, for example, they are dissatisfied
with their child's progress. In the particular case where a parent
requests a grammar school, the Board must first satisfy itself,
in consultation with the Board of Governors, that, the school
is suitable to the child's age, ability and aptitude; i.e., that
the child would be able to cope with the level and pace of work
in a grammar school. Where this is considered appropriate, the
child is placed in the school outside the usual admissions procedures,
without having to compete for a place against other children.
Parents also enjoy rights of appeal to the SEN Tribunal if they
are dissatisfied with Boards' decisions about school placements.
I very much hope that this supplementary information
will be helpful to the Committee and look forward to receiving
the report of your deliberations in due course.
6 January 1999
3 Ev. p. 87. Back