Examination of witnesses
(Questions 100- 118)
WEDNESDAY 25 NOVEMBER 1998
and MR NEILL
100. Minister, is it a correct, reasonable
and logical conclusion to draw from the Department's memorandum
that there are in Northern Ireland some children with the most
severe and complex difficulties being taught in buildings that
are not designated, designed, to facilitate their education? The
reason I ask that question is that, at one stage, paragraph 3.3,
you acknowledge that special schools are full, and in paragraphs
4.9 to 4.11 you say that sometimes they are housed in accommodation
which has not been built in accordance with the Department's School
Building Standards. Now is this a fair conclusion to draw?
(Mr McFall) Yes, it is a fair conclusion. Can
I give you an example. Last week I visited Glenveagh School and
that was a school built three years ago for 108 pupils, there
are now over 150-plus pupils. Mrs Murphy, the Principal, is trying
to do something for the children at the upper levels with the
connection with the higher education, but she wants to keep their
involvement, but in many ways that school is insufficient for
the present needs. So, you are quite correct, in that issue. And,
in terms of the severe and complex issues, as I mentioned earlier
on, there is a lot of work to be done in that area yet, Mr Hunter,
and, in terms of buildings, we do have quite a backlog of capital
projects, and irrespective of where I go, primary schools, secondary
schools, special education units, I am met by educationalists,
and MPs and others tell me about the priorities in their particular
area, so they have quite a job to do in that area.
(Mr Manning) I think that you are perfectly right,
there are some schools in Northern Ireland where children with
profound and multiple learning disabilities are educated. Since
1987, when responsibility for the former special care schools
passed from the health authorities to education, a capital building
programme was devised at that time; since that time, roughly ten
schools have been built on greenfield sites, purpose-built, and,
as the Minister said, in some cases numbers are now exceeding
that for which they were built. However, there remain a number
of schools that are, I suppose, down the waiting list on the capital
programme, and it is an urgent priority that these schools are
prioritised as soon as possible for rebuilding; but the numbers
are certainly declining, in terms of pupils housed in poor accommodation,
and the building programme over the last ten years has seen the
development of some exceptional resources, in a number of areas,
for pupils with these major problems.
(Mr McFall) And I think we will have to give thought
to the type of buildings we have, because in Glenveagh, when I
visited the other day, I was struck by the space, the height,
the airiness of the school, and the Principal, Mrs Murphy, said
that this coincided with her outlook, her vision, for the children,
because she encourages the arts and the creative expression of
these children and widens their environment, and we must do that
in appropriate settings.
Mr Hunter: I think, Chairman, so
that the record is complete, I ought to explain my line of questioning
is perhaps more hostile than I really believe; as a politician
who believes in the imperative of low taxation and controlled
expenditure, I understand the problems the Minister has to deal
with. Can I move to another point?
Chairman: Yes, do.
101. Earlier, the Minister referred to a
delegated budget, and I am just wondering about the arguments
for and against separate accounting, so that individual schools
demonstrate how they are spending the delegated budget. What is
the Minister's thinking on this?
(Mr McFall) Again, of the four schools I visited
last week, three schools were resolutely saying they do not want
delegated budgets because the whole needs of the child are catered
for by the Education and Library Boards, and, given the complexity
of the needs of individual children who come in, that they are
reassured about that issue. One school which I did visit, it was
Harberton, where the Principal, Martin McGlade, was on record
as saying he wanted a delegated budget, I asked him about this
particular issue, and what he wanted was the flexibility in the
budget, and I think it was a very sensible issue he brought up
with me, because if we look at the present situation with that,
if the teacher costs are taken outwith a budget it leaves there
the current costs. Now schools can save or overspend in the current
costs, but the present system is that if there are any savings
it goes back to the Department, and Mr McGlade was particularly
exercised about that issue. But I think it is a very sensible
thing and I think it is something that can flow out from this
Committee's deliberations, and I would be very happy to look at
102. I am going, in a moment, Minister,
to go back to Mr Beggs, but you did yourself make allusion to
expenditure patterns, when you made your original statement. I
would just simply ask, so that we have it at this particular point
in our own questioning, and for the record, how much of the additional
funding for schools in the public expenditure consultation paper
will go to special education, and what percentage uplift in resources
do you see for 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, compared with the current
(Mr McFall) That is a very difficult question,
Mr Brooke, so I think I would be less than honest if I tried to,
say, what we would say in Scotland, flannel that one for you,
so would you mind if we wrote to you on that particular issue.
But I do know that, in terms of special educational needs for
mainstream, we are talking about over £40 million for the
year, but that is a matter for the schools and the Boards to look
at, although we have a special term, which we designate in that,
and it is `unavoidable expenditure'. So we have over £40
million in that; but, in terms of the next few years on the special
educational needs in mainstream schools, we will certainly write
to you on that. On the other issue, with the Code of Practice,
I have already given you those figures, of £3.5 million for
half of this year plus £7.5 million for the next two years.
But we will certainly flesh out that for you, if you are happy
103. Yes, thank you. I think it would be
quite helpful to us if we had it earlier rather than later, if
that is feasible?
(Mr McFall) We will get back to you within a few
104. And, let me make quite clear, in terms
of the latitude, an early answer is more helpful than an immensely
(Mr McFall) You will receive that early next week,
if that is okay with you, very early, and if you want it earlier
than that we can do that.
Chairman: We will leave that for
discussion between our Clerk and yourselves.
105. While the amount of funding attached
to or which follows a statemented pupil transferring from mainstream
to special school may be minimal for the mainstream school, the
Northern Ireland Audit Office report, at paragraph 4.31, indicates
that for Boards this can result in a substantial amount of funding
overall being potentially lost to special educational needs in
mainstream education. Would the Minister care to comment on that
(Mr McFall) Yes. That particular issue, brought
up by the Audit Commission, is going to be considered by the LMS
review, which we have looked at, so it is under active consideration,
and it is a valid point.
106. Thank you. The Minister has already
referred to the shortage of qualified psychologists in Northern
Ireland, the Boards also expressed concern at the increased demand
for educational psychologists, as a result of the Code of Practice,
and the identified shortage of such professionals in Northern
Ireland. This shortage, they indicated, had arisen partly because
DENI allocated funds to appoint additional educational psychologists
in relation to the Children Order without ensuring that enough
people would be trained through funding additional training places.
What steps will be taken to address the current shortage of educational
(Mr McFall) The first thing I would say, Mr Beggs,
is that the shortage of educational psychologists, indeed the
growing shortage, is not confined to Northern Ireland; indeed
the DfEE have recently established a working party to consider
the changing role and status of the profession and identify its
future training requirements. So we are registering our formal
interest in that, with that group, and we expect our own conclusions,
when we look at that, to be in line with theirs. But, obviously,
urgent action is needed to address the situation, and I will be
inviting Boards to devise an action programme for the purpose,
and at the same time setting aside funding for this purpose within
next year's additional allocation, so there will be a specific
amount of money for that, for Boards, and that will be an encouragement
to Boards to allow people to go and train. And I am keen that
that action programme should include measures which will both
expand the post-graduate intakes at present and make training
arrangements more attractive to serving teachers.
107. It is recognised that the educational
psychologist plays a key role in special educational needs, and
as a result of the Code of Practice that role has been changing
and developing. What plans has the Department to promote the development
of skills and professional practice of current educational psychologists
to assist them in meeting these additional demands?
(Mr McFall) Can I ask Paddy, and then maybe come
back to you on that.
(Mr Manning) The present core of educational psychologists
in Northern Ireland, while they are all employed by separate Boards,
are part of a body of psychologists within Northern Ireland who
undertake continuing their professional development. They have
a number of days that they meet every year on professional development
and they are currently drawing up their list of priorities for
the next year. Currently, this year, they have already had training
in looking at ADHD, looking at autism, looking at assessment and
diagnostic techniques, across a whole range of difficulties; they
have also had joint training days for looking at the Code of Practice,
looking at how the different Boards are responding to the Code
of Practice. So, while they are all employedand the Audit
Office made the comment, in their report, that it may be better
to look at a Northern Ireland system of educational psychology
rather than one run by each of the Boards; but, in effect, when
you look at the way in which they are trained and their continuing
professional development, that is actually the case.
108. Thank you. Chairman, I welcome the
responses we have been given, because I am very conscious of the
expressed view of a former Chief Officer in Northern Ireland,
who said that every time he appointed an educational psychologist
he needed to appoint another one to look after him; but, with
the extent of training that has now been done, no doubt the service
has become much more professional since that remark was made?
(Mr McFall) Can I just add to that, Mr Beggs,
that I am silent on that comment you made, that is the first thing,
but, secondly, I think, there needs to be a review of qualifications
and the training arrangements for educational psychologists, I
recognise that, and that will be a departmental view. I am also
aware of the extra burdens that you say have been put on educational
psychologists, because, with the five-stage process we have now,
psychologists are coming in at stage three, so there are going
to be extra burdens. And, in one-to-one meetings with educational
psychologists over the past few months, they have mentioned issues
to me that could perhaps help them regarding, say, the bureaucracy
of the Code of Practice and how we can minimise that bureaucracy.
So that will be one issue for the regional group of Senior Officers,
looking at that at the inter-Board level to see if we can do that,
so that they get the best out of psychologists and do not have
them administering and being involved in bureaucratic work. And
we have also highlighted the issue of the psychologists within
the departmental discipline strategy for behavioural problems.
109. Can I just ask, while we are on the
psychology tack, and just to follow up Mr Beggs's question, I
have some sympathy with what he says, actually, in that the whole
business of therapy has been quite difficult, in that some therapists
are trained to take the view that, for instance, all of the traumas
really are sexual traumas which occurred very early in a child's
life, or whatever, Freudian therapy, and so on. I would just perhaps
like to place on the record the idea, I am a philosopher, and
I would just like to place on the record really that there is
a lot of stuff going on in cognitive therapy which actually is
immensely impressive and does not sort of assume that you know
what the cause of someone's cognitive difficulties is, but simply
try to come to terms with their cognitive difficulty as presented
and seek to negotiate a way in which the person can try to improve
in that. And that, of course, does relate directly to the fact
that perhaps a lot of the educational psychologists, as trained,
in fact, have got very little understanding of the modern trends
in cognitive therapy, and I would be quite interested to perhaps
just place that on the record. I do not expect an instant reply
to the observation.
(Mr McFall) Maybe to take up the points in your
question, and I speak here with a practical bent as well, that
many teachers, as I mentioned earlier, feel unskilled to identify
special educational needs, and the appearance of these newly identified
or categorised conditions has compounded this, so we need Board
training programmes and we need school training programmes, not
just for the Code of Practice but also to make it more sensitive,
in terms of that. So my Department has issued guidance to all
schools regarding the good practice, and we are making arrangements
in the resources we have for what we call the special educational
needs co-ordinator training, and also to introduce accreditation
for them; it is not an examination as such but it is accreditation
with the training colleges and the universities and Open University
there. And the Boards are also introducing school support teams
on that, and the latest teacher training programmes in the colleges
make the special educational needs component compulsory, and that
is from this year, whereas it was not compulsory before, so we
are starting that at the teacher training level. And, when it
goes into the early professional development of the teachers in
the schools, we have that link between the schools and teacher
training colleges and other accreditation colleges to keep up
that link and keep up that issue, so that is very important. And,
on a very personal level, a point that Mr Beggs made, and yourself,
Mr McWalter, on the issue of psychologists, I have got my own
views on issues like that, but the more integrated the psychologists
become in the process the better, we have seen it in the past,
that children have been taken out, and "What's your problem?"
and then they get put back in; there has got to be this inclusion,
and that includes the professionals as well.
Mr McWalter: Chair, I am rather pleased
to have added the supplements to Mr Beggs's question.
Chairman: Again, I am going to ask
Mr McWalter to follow up in a moment on a different subject, and
the purpose of this session is very much to ask questions of the
witnesses, but, since we have a slight margin of time, I will
trespass momentarily down memory lane again. I can certainly remember,
in the days when I sat in your chair, Minister, being asked to
answer an oral question on the floor of the House about the number
of educational psychologists employed by local education authorities,
and being given the sentence which I was obliged to deliver that
the Scilly Isles were the only local education authority in the
country not to have one, which, inevitably, unreasonably amused
the House of Commons.
110. We have explored quite a lot in terms
of therapies but I would also like just to ask about nursing support,
school nurses, and the extent to which they are in a position
to be able to support the operations of special educational needs.
Perhaps if I can leave it like that for the moment and see what
I fish out by way of a response; do you feel that they are well-equipped
to be able to contribute to this?
(Mr McFall) I think they can contribute, but I
think we do have a problem, and it is a departmental problem,
where we have the Health Board and the Trusts responsible for
the speech and therapy nurses. And we have, for example, a school
in Northern Ireland at the moment, a special school, which has
a hydrotherapy pool but the nurse is off ill at the moment so
there is no replacement from the Trust on that issue; now that
is the whole thrust of the educational commitment to the individual
child gone, as a result of this situation. So what your questionand
I am sure you have gone into it, and you knew maybe the point
you were taking alongis pointing at is that we need to
make education and health closer, and I was dismayed by the issues
which I found, in the past few months, on that, and I have asked
the Department to look at that, and I think we do have a group
that has been set up between education and health, am I correct,
Paddy, on that issue, and we are getting them to look at that
very issue, so that they bring the educational coherence to the
needs of the children.
(Mr McCormick) A group has been set up at practitioner
level between the Education and the Review Boards and representatives
of the Health and Social Services Boards and Trusts to draw up
a blueprint for service level agreements which the Education and
Library Boards can then negotiate with their individual local
Trusts. That is almost at final stages now.
111. So it has not actually met, in short,
(Mr McCormick) The group is almost at the final
Mr McWalter: Right, I see. Thank
you very much for that. I think the other matters, Chair, you
wanted me to raise, one way and another, have been covered in
112. Very good. I have one or two questions
of a round-up nature. The Department's commitment to encouraging
teachers to undertake professional qualifications, which will
enhance their experience and expertise, is obviously welcome,
though, I have to say, it appears to be at variance with current
policy in respect of funding for award-bearing, in-service courses,
which was withdrawn in 1996-97. Will steps be taken to redress
this situation and expand opportunities for professional development
within the special educational needs?
(Mr McFall) I have discussed that, Mr Brooke,
with my officials, and it comes into the category of the educational
psychologist and the need for further training, but I think Paddy
could give you a deeper insight into that.
(Mr Manning) Yes, the funding was withdrawn for
award-bearing and service courses; however, there has been no
decline in the number of teachers taking up courses. Recently
we carried out an inspection, the Northern Ireland Inspectorate
carried out an inspection of the award-bearing courses at University
of Ulster and Queen's University; during that year the funding
was withdrawn and some teachers were concerned that they would
not be able to participate further. However, the reports from
Queen's University and from University of Ulster are that there
has been absolutely no shortfall in the numbers of teachers taking
up courses; in fact, some courses, particularly for special educational
needs, have been oversubscribed, and that would be the Advanced
Diploma in Special Education and the Masters courses, so that
while we were concerned ourselves that this withdrawal of funding
for award-bearing (INSET) would have a detrimental effect, this
actually has not happened in practice.
113. I am glad I asked the question, because
I have received a thoroughly reassuring answer. While it may be
premature to require a formal qualification for SENCOs, does the
Department have any plans to take action on any of the recommendations
of the Newcastle report, in respect of SENCOs, and I am perfectly
happy to give references if necessary, especially those on job
descriptions and the role and status of SENCOs; and, if the Department
does, on what timescale?
(Mr McFall) From my discussions, I get the feeling
that the trend is not towards formal qualifications for SENCO,
but, again, maybe if, in the practical sense, Paddy could look
(Mr Manning) What we have done is to initiate
SENCO training, which has been taking place over the last two
years, within the Boards, that has been the responsibility of
the Curriculum and Advisory Support Service within each of the
Boards; however, what the Department has done, it has allocated
a significant proportion, I think about £600,000, of the
£3.6 million, for the first year of the Code of Practice
to SENCO training. Now what that has done has been to introduce
a computer module, which is running alongside the CLASS project
in schools, which will minimise the amount of bureaucracy linked
to the Code of Practice for SENCOs. And what we have tried to
do is to encourage the Area Boards, in their SENCO training, to
ensure that the status and the time allocated to the special needs
co-ordinators is commensurate with the difficulty of the job.
The Newcastle research was a benchmark against which the Department
will judge the success of the introduction of the Code of Practice,
but we have had the advantage of a lead-in year, we have had the
advantage of the problems there have been with the introduction
of the Code of Practice in England and Wales, and we are quite
confident that the SENCO training and the emphasis that we place
on things will have a significant impact on the quality and status
of special needs co-ordinators within the schools.
(Mr McFall) Could I just add to that, Mr Brooke,
that the money we have given for training is ring-fenced, so they
have got to look at that. The computer module that Paddy mentioned,
I think that will be very helpful to all staff, but I have to
recognise that the research reports that have looked into that
have indicated a variation of time that different schools and
teachers apply to SENCO, so there needs to be some increasing
focus on that, with certainly stages for action.
114. I want to go back to an answer which
was given to us by the Department, a written answer, which was
given to us back in July, on the time limit for assessment and
what I would describe as some omissions in the Northern Ireland
Code of Practice. You said: "The Northern Ireland legislation
on time limits for assessments differs from that in England, reflecting
in particular local consultation outcomes and previous DfEE experience."
What I was interested in is what came up in the consultations
and the previous DfEE experience which prompted the decision not
to include regulations parallel to those in England?
(Mr McFall) Could I just say that the first two
stages in the assessment was to take 18 weeks, and I think the
practice in England and Wales indicated to us that there could
be an inflexibility in that area, because it was strategy, and
we wanted to make it more flexible, so we combined that just to
make everything 18 weeks. But David, in particular, has been dealing
with that area, and we decided to simplify our regulations to
make it more straightforward and more flexible. Perhaps David
could give us a further insight.
(Mr McCormick) Yes. When we first consulted, Chairman,
we consulted on the basis of what was in the English regulations,
and the general consensus, although I suspect for different reasons
from different sources, was that the regulations were overcomplicated.
The other aspect of the consultation was we tried to learn from
the experience in England, I talked to people from the DfEE, I
talked to people from LEAs, and crucially I talked to the English
Audit Commission, who have the role of ensuring that the LEAs
are performing up to those standards; they told me that they had
abandoned early attempts to try to assess all of the various time
limits which the English regulations had included, in favour of
one aggregate time limit of 18 weeks. And we decided, on the basis
of that and the general feeling out there that things were too
complicated, that we would replace the series of time limits on
stages with one overall time limit. At the same time, we were
keen not to lose those time targets, those subsidiary time targets,
so we placed those in the Code of Practice; some people have regarded
it as relegating them from regulations to the Code of Practice,
but, in fact, the Code of Practice is a document to which Education
and Library Boards must, by law, have regard. The Boards themselves
have undertaken that they will do everything that they can to
meet those time limits, we have given assurances to parent groups
that if there are problems with the time limits we will investigate
them in exactly the way we would have done had they been in regulations.
And, if I may make one final point, one of the criticisms made
was that, for example, there is a right of appeal for a parent
if a Board decides not to assess a child, the allegation was that
a Board could delay making a decision on whether or not it should
assess the child to deny the parent the right of appeal, and I
cleared with Aidan Canavan, President, and he has now made this
public, that if that situation arose he would be prepared to deem,
on a request from a parent, that a Board had constructively avoided
making a decision and would actually treat that as an appeal,
and it would therefore be subject to all of the Tribunal procedures.
So that was the basis of it. But there have been some approaches
from groups about it; I think once it has been explained to them
they have understood what we are doing.
(Mr McFall) Could I just add to that, you mentioned
about the Special Needs Tribunal, Mr Brooke, but the President,
Aidan Canavan, has been in post for a while, and we are looking
at this issue, I know my officials have spoken to him, we are
looking at it as rather less confrontational and more mediation,
and a lot of work has gone on into that aspect. So therefore there
is a very positive relationship there.
115. Thank you very much indeed. I have
a suspicion that Mr McCormick, in the course of that answer, has
answered my next question but one, and I will tell you what my
next question but one was going to be, but I am not sure that
he has actually answered my next question, so I will come back
to that in a moment. I was going to ask him what plans the Department
had to ensure the involvement of parental support groups in the
implementation of the Code, and I am giving him the credit for
having answered that, though he may wish to add to it. What I
was going to ask, before that, is whether the local consultation
on the issue to which there was reference, did that include parents'
groups, and how were parents' interests being addressed by not
having the time limits? Now you have come back to the second part
of that but I do not think you actually indicated whether parents'
groups were part of the consultation?
(Mr McCormick) Yes, they were, Chairman, very
(Mr McFall) And the lack of representation, Mr
Brooke, from the parents, I think indicates a positive relationship
between parents and Boards on that issue.
Chairman: I have a couple of things
I want to come back to, which we discussed earlier. Let me just
verify whether any of my colleagues have any other questions they
want to ask.
116. I think perhaps just to place on the
record the business about the relationship between the Boards
and the health groups, I wonder whether you might perhaps write
to us, indicating more formally what the nature of that body is
and really to give us some idea of how it works. I think, in a
sense, because matters are sometimes more simple in Northern Ireland,
often not, but in this particular case possibly, we may have there
a kind of pilot also which is of wider use and significance, and
I would be grateful to see details about that?
(Mr McFall) There are a number of significant
problems existing at the moment, but we would be delighted to
share that information very early with you.
117. I think this has been an extremely
good session, and we are very grateful to you and your colleagues,
Minister, for the manner in which our questions have been answered.
I will say, I think it would be helpful, in the same way as Mr
McWalter has indicated, some written follow-up would be helpful.
Mr Beggs asked an earlier question, which will be verifiable from
the record, about the lack of specialist services, psychiatric
and clinical psychology, for children with emotional and behavioural
difficulties. I think it would be worth revisiting the answer
to see whether, with reflection, there was anything else you wanted
to say, and I am not, in any way, pressing for it at this moment.
And then my own question, relating to the selection process and
grammar schools, I think it might be worth revisiting that answer,
to see whether there was any way in which you wanted to expand
that answer, too. But we are very happy to take those in writing
after the event.
(Mr McFall) Perhaps it would be best in writing.
I would be happy to give that. There is good research information
available on issues such as that, but I would be happy to do that,
118. I repeat the pleasure we have derived
from taking evidence from you, which we thought was given with
crispness and coherence, and thank you very much indeed.
(Mr McFall) Could I just say, finally, thank you
very much; this is my first occasion, and it was not as bad as
I thought it would be, we were treated very nicely. However, what
I do say is that, as a result of your deliberations, I have got
what I have termed with my officials a ten-point action plan,
looking at this issue, and we will take that away, and indeed
I will cover that in the written submission we will make to you,
very soon, as well. Thank you very much.
Chairman: That is very kind. There
were only five of us; had the whole Committee of 13 been present
it might have been a more arduous process, but the Almighty was
quite clearly on your side. Thank you.
4 See Ev. p. 87. Back
5 Replies covering the Committee's questions can be found on pp.