Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Third Special Report


Letter from Mr John McFall MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office, to the Chairman of the Committee

I refer to the Report published by your Committee on 19 April indicating the conclusions reached following its inquiry into public expenditure on special needs education in Northern Ireland.

The findings of the inquiry are of relevance to both the Departments of Education and Health and Social Services, and to the various Boards and Trusts with responsibilities in these areas, and we have taken a range of comments and views into account in determining our considered response to the report. I am setting out the Government's response as an annex to this letter. Where the recommendations have focussed on a particular theme or area of concern, we have grouped these.

The Committee's report itself acknowledges the extent of developmental work on special educational needs which has taken place since implementation of the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996. This work continues, informed by the outcomes of recent studies, including that of your Committee. Two developments of particular relevance have perhaps been the work of the new inter­Board Regional Strategy Group, which has been systematically considering the main recommendations made by the Comptroller and Auditor General in his 1998 Report, together with the Government's resource allocation decisions for special educational needs for the 1999­2000 year. These included major new initiatives designed to improve the supply and training of educational psychologists and promote further mainstream placements, and these are described in more detail at the appropriate points in the annex itself.

I hope that the Committee will find this response both relevant and adequate, and I look forward to further developments in special needs provision, informed by the advice contained in your Committee's report. I am most grateful to you and your colleagues on the Committee for the time and effort you have spent in this crucial area of educational provision.

17 June 1999

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