Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Further Memorandum from the Department of Education for Northern Ireland


  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.[3] 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 levels—Departmental, Board and Trust—between 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 the Board.

  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

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 14 April 1999