Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Third Special Report



ANNEX

RESPONSE TO NORTHERN IRELAND AFFAIRS COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS[1]

1.  STATEMENTING

Recommendation (a)

It is obviously in the best interests of parents and children alike that the statementing process takes as short a period of time as possible. We urge ELBs to make every effort to secure the completion of the statementing process within the limits prescribed in the Code of Practice. We recommend that they review their practices and procedures as a matter of urgency with a view to ensuring that as many cases as possible are so completed. This will include ensuring that adequate administrative and professional resources are available to be devoted to this important function. The review should include an examination of Boards' own administrative procedures with a view to ensuring that there are no unnecessary administrative delays. We also recommend that the Boards consider jointly how best to complete the statementing process as rapidly and efficiently as possible. This would provide a mechanism both for disseminating best practice and promoting consistency of approach across the whole of Northern Ireland.

Recommendation (b)

We agree with the Northern Ireland Audit Office that a lack of involvement of ELBs in the annual review process weakens their ability to manage special educational resources effectively. It may also mean that the most appropriate provision is not made for the child in the forthcoming year. We therefore recommend that ELBs consider carefully the case for devoting additional staff resources to this important function, as the Comptroller and Auditor General recommended.

Recommendation (e)

There is a need to seek to establish, as far as possible, common criteria on the purpose and aims of statementing. We recommend that the Government commission appropriate research. Without such benchmarks, it is not possible to assess with any confidence the effectiveness of the considerable level of public expenditure involved.

Recommendation (f)

The Comptroller and Auditor General also expressed concern about the variations in the levels of statementing, which he considered might reflect a lack of consistent criteria for identifying pupils with special educational needs, or different interpretations of the definition of special educational needs. We recommend that the Comptroller and Auditor General's recommendations designed to improve consistency be carefully studied.

Recommendation (q)

There is a variation between Boards in the number of children referred for assessment and in the number of statements written. The Comptroller and Auditor General has also drawn attention to a number of other differences between Boards and with comparable local authorities elsewhere in the United Kingdom. While we recognise the reality of such differences, and that the reasons for their existence are likely to be complex, we recommend that the ELBs seek to agree common bases for their definition of assessment of special educational needs and seek to develop common approaches. The research we have recommended in paragraph 51 [see recommendation (e)] may have a part to play in this process. As the problems encountered are not unique to Northern Ireland, there may be scope for drawing on experience elsewhere in the United Kingdom.

Recommendation (r)

While we recognise that there have been many moves to improve parental involvement and increase their right to appeal through Tribunals within the field of special educational needs, there are still many unresolved issues. Recent research in the Graduate School of Education at Queen's University indicates that parents frequently feel alienated by the assessment process and do not feel well enough informed to make a meaningful contribution. They also complained about the delays in the statementing process and often did not understand the statement when it eventually was completed. Furthermore, they perceived a lack of cohesion in the statementing procedure when both education and health and social services were involved. We recommend that DENI, the ELBs and the HSSBs review the scope for improving parental perceptions of their involvement. A greater attention to this aspect in the training of the professionals involved might be appropriate.

Government response

The Code of Practice advises Boards that special educational needs assessments should be carried out as quickly as possible, insofar as this is compatible with thorough consideration of the issues in individual cases. In the more complex cases assessment may need to be more prolonged, but in normal circumstances the stage of issuing a proposed statement should be reached no more than 18 weeks from initial referral. Boards have indicated in their evidence to the Committee that they are fully committed to meeting this timescale, together with the subsidiary targets identified in the Code of Practice. To assist in this process, the Department has earmarked substantial additional resources to increase complements of educational psychologists and to strengthen necessary administrative support.

Under the aegis of the Education and Library Boards' Regional Strategy Group, assessment procedures are being reviewed to achieve maximum throughput and to seek ways of securing greater consistency. Board performance in this area will be monitored, and a research project is planned to identify necessary improvements in the quality of management information available for this purpose.

As far as annual reviews are concerned, regulations made under the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 require more direct involvement by Education and Library Boards. In consultation with the Regional Strategy Group, the Department has ear­marked £75,000 to facilitate the creation of additional administrative support from September 1999 in each Board, in part to assist with work arising from annual reviews.

The Regional Strategy Group is also considering how far common statementing criteria can be applied across all five Boards, recognising that, for historical and other reasons, similar options as to the provision to be made may not be available to all Boards in all circumstances.

On the issues relating to parents identified in recommendation (r), the outcomes of the research in question are acknowledged, and the Regional Strategy Group has been seeking ways to improve liaison with parents and other partners on both a local and regional basis. The additional administrative post to be created in each Board in 1999­2000 will be deployed in part to improve communication with parents. It is also relevant that the Northern Ireland Code of Practice strongly emphasises the importance of the role of parents at all stages of the child's development, and this emphasis will feature more prominently in future professional training.

2.  FUNDING

Recommendation (c)

Our predecessors reported in February 1997 on underachievement in Northern Ireland secondary schools and reached a number of conclusions about school funding and social disadvantage, and TSN funding in particular. In its response in July 1997, the Government reported that it had received a consultants' report on TSN methodology and, in particular, dealing with two separate, but inter­related, strands of the policy ­ social deprivation and special educational need. The Government agreed that more should be done to monitor how

targeted resources are used and to evaluate their impact on pupils with social and educational needs. We recommend that the Government take the opportunity of its response to this Report to state what progress it has made in this area.

Recommendation (d)

Given that schools are now required to state in their annual reports their policy with regard to provision for special educational needs, we believe they should also be required to publish details of how they have used that part of their delegated budget intended to be spent in this area. Quantification of expenditure would provide an objective basis for future allocations, and remove the need for indirect formulae.

Recommendation (o)

Given the likely growth in the number of statemented children, at least in the short to medium term, and the limited capacity of special schools and units, it is likely that an increased number of these children will be educated in mainstream schools. The challenge for such schools will be enhanced by the fact that many of these children are likely to have more profound needs than such schools have normally faced hitherto. This will need to be reflected in the funding such schools receive. Greater targeting of resources where they are needed will be facilitated by our recommendation that schools take steps to identify expenditure on meeting special educational needs.

Recommendation (p)

Given the likelihood that there will be continued pressure on resources for meeting special educational needs, we consider there is a case for ELBs to look closely at their expenditure on special schools and special units, and at provision for meeting special educational needs in mainstream schools, to ensure that resources are deployed to greatest effect. There would appear to be a good case for according higher priority to capital expenditure on special schools, where to do so would improve their capacity to deliver good quality services, and to provide specialist support to mainstream schools.

Government response

The Department has been considering future arrangements for the distribution of TSN funds as part of the work on the development of a Common LMS Formula for all schools in Northern Ireland with delegated budgets and also in the context of "New TSN" which was launched by the Secretary of State in July 1998.

The Department invited the LMS Steering Group to establish a Working Group representative of the main education partners and including school principals to consider the distribution of TSN funds within a common formula. The Working Group's report was considered by the Steering Group at its meeting in early May and the Department is currently considering its recommendations. The Department plans to issue a consultation document on a common LMS formula, including arrangements for TSN funding, to all schools later this year.

In terms of accounting for the use of resources, the Code of Practice requires (para 2.8) each school to state the SEN resource allocation in its annual report. The Department is considering the case for a consistent format for reporting of TSN expenditure in the light of the recent report by NIAO, the experience gained under current reporting arrangements set out in the Code of Practice and in line with the new arrangements introduced for TSN as part of the Common Formula. This will be taken forward in the context of the TSN Action Plan being prepared in consultation with our education partners.

In addition, the Education and Training Inspectorate intends to include a request for information about each school's funding allocation prior to inspection.

As far as increased funding for mainstream placements is concerned, the Department is seeking to promote more placements in mainstream schools for children with special educational needs, both statemented and non­statemented. Two new initiatives for 1999­2000 have particular relevance. These will provide:

  • an additional £1.2 million to promote more placements for pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools, mainly by increasing numbers of specialist outreach and peripatetic teachers and classroom support staff, by up to ten per Board in each case; and

  • an additional £0.5 million to fund improvements in disabled access to mainstream schools, by providing ramps, disabled toilets and the like.

The first of these initiatives will in particular enable the development of a role for special schools as centres of specialist knowledge and expertise on which mainstream schools may draw as required. Integration support for mainstream schools will be especially facilitated by the expansion of outreach and peripatetic teaching services as part of this initiative.

On the particular question of value for money, a research specification is being formulated under the aegis of the Regional Strategy Group on the relative effectiveness and efficiency of various forms of provision. Amongst other issues, this project will consider the relative roles of special and mainstream schools. As far as priority for special schools in the Department's capital programme is concerned, all special schools' major building works have been accorded high priority ­ Category 3 ­ in the Schools Capital Planning List. The Department will continue to give priority to the needs of special schools in the determination of the capital programme, within available capital resources.

3.  CODE OF PRACTICE

Recommendation (n)

It is clear that the Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1996 and the Code of Practice represent a watershed in special education provision in Northern Ireland. The Government has recognised that this will involve significant additional resources, both for schools (including special schools) and for implementing the Code of Practice. It will also require a change of approach to the delivery of education to children with special educational needs to ensure that there is compliance with both the spirit and the administrative mechanisms of the Code. In changing the approach, it will be important for all concerned to keep in mind that fact that the overwhelming majority of children with special educational needs ­ perhaps as many as nine out of ten ­ will have those needs assessed and met outside the statementing framework and within the resources ordinarily expected to be available in mainstream schools. We hope, therefore, that very careful consideration will be given to implementing the recommendations of the Dyson Report. We consider that an informed debate involving both service providers and their "customers" ­ the children and their parents ­ would be beneficial.

Recommendation (s)

Given the scope and nature of the changes likely to arise in meeting special educational needs provision following the introduction of the Code of Practice, we consider it important that progress should be kept under review. We recommend that DENI do so, and amend the Code as necessary in the light of experience. There is also a case for continuing parliamentary interest in this important and sensitive area.

Government response

On the matter of additional funding for schools, the Government has accepted that the implementation of the 1996 Order and Code of Practice has significant resource implications for schools in particular. In the current year, the amount for distribution direct to schools experiencing particular pressures in catering for special needs has been increased from £2 million to £3.6 million.

On the question of follow-up action to the Newcastle University Study, DENI has welcomed this research as providing a baseline for monitoring the operation of the Code of Practice and a framework within which a number of issues can be addressed.

With particular reference to the professional issues raised by the study report, these have been addressed in the following ways:

  • DENI issued to schools last year complementary copies of the DfEE SENCO Guide, identifying best practice in developing the role of the SEN Co­ordinator; preparing education plans; and drawing up school SEN policies;

  • the Education and Training Inspectorate (ETI) have met with Professor Dyson to discuss his report in detail, and he has himself addressed a recent ETI staff development seminar;

  • all focussed inspections in the primary phase this term are concentrating on SEN, in accordance with specific guidance which draws on the study findings;

  • members of the ETI with responsibilities for special education have addressed teachers' groups and met with personnel from the Education and Library Boards' Curriculum Advice and Support Service to discuss the implications of the Code of Practice;

  • the provision of outreach services by special schools to mainstream schools was especially highlighted in inspection reports last session, and outreach has been further emphasized in the ETI survey report on provision for pupils with emotional and behavioural problems; and

  • each Education and Library Board has appointed an officer to promote the Code, and Boards are considering the development of local working/support groups.

DENI fully endorses recommendation (s). The Department's intention has been to commission follow­up research to the Dyson study at the most appropriate time, ie, when the NI Code of Practice has had a reasonable period for assimilation in schools, bearing in mind that the Code is still in its first year of operation here. Meanwhile, it is proposed to establish a joint DENI/Board working group under the aegis of the Regional Strategy Group to monitor the operation of the Code of Practice. Developments in England, where a Code of Practice has been in operation for over 4 years, will also be closely studied, partly through the presence of a DENI representative at meetings of a DfEE committee established to recommend changes to the Code of Practice for England and Wales. Any future proposed changes to the Code of Practice will be the subject of wide and detailed consultation.

4.  EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGISTS

Recommendation (i)

We are pleased that Mr McFall saw the need to remedy the current shortage of educational psychologists as an urgent issue and that he proposes to have discussions with both Queen's University and the ELBs. We recommend that these discussions include the scope for increasing the teaching and training resources with a view to seeking to eliminate the shortage in this key function as soon as is practicable.

Recommendation (j)

We consider it important that the opportunity to train as an educational psychologist should be available to as wide a pool of applicants as possible. In particular, we consider there is a good case for attracting teachers with a greater degree of experience. We have seen suggestions that the present level of funding of Temporary Employment Contracts may be

a deterrent to applicants, particularly more experienced teachers. We understand that in Scotland there has recently been a move to increase significantly the value of Temporary Employment Contracts to address this problem there. We recommend that the value of such contracts in Northern Ireland be reviewed.

Government response

A revised scheme for the allocation of training awards to trainee educational psychologists is being drawn up in discussion with Queen's University. Details for the first year of the scheme will shortly be finalised, with the aim of expanding the capacity of the present MSc Course in Developmental and Educational Psychology to enable up to 11 trainees (the current level is 6) to attain the qualification each year, initially for a 3 year period when the situation will be reviewed. Amongst other things, this will involve increasing the value of Temporary Employment Contracts from £12,500 to £17,500.

In addition, by the end of this year, up to 20 additional educational psychologist posts will have been funded under the Department's SEN Code of Practice initiative. Arrangements to put in place a Continuing Professional Development Doctorate for serving educational psychologists is also currently under discussion.

The Department has committed £810,000 in additional resources for 1999­2000 to fund these developments, made up as follows:

Additional educational psychologists/clerical support£630,000
Additional training support for MSc Course£145,000
Support for preparation for introduction of CPD Doctorate£35,000

5.  SPEECH AND LANGUAGE THERAPISTS

Recommendation (k)

We recommend that steps be taken to seek to improve the recruitment and retention of speech and language therapists in Northern Ireland. We note that the Department of Health and Social Services is seeking to update the methodology for identifying needs in terms of manpower planning in partnership with HSSBs and Trusts. We look to the Secretary of State, in responding to this Report, to indicate how it is intended to tackle the recruitment and retention problems.

Government response

In the current financial year the Department of Health and Social Services has allocated £400,000 specifically for therapy provision to pre­school and school children with special needs.

In addition, an exercise is being conducted under the aegis of the Regional Review Group to determine the level of provision of therapy to children with special needs in schools, including identification of unmet need. DHSS itself will carry out a Workforce Planning exercise to assess the demand for staff across all the "therapy" professions, including speech and language therapy. This will take into account the need to provide a service to schools for children with special needs. The outcome of this exercise will determine what further action needs to be taken.

6.  CO-OPERATION BETWEEN EDUCATION AND LIBRARY BOARDS AND HEALTH AND SOCIAL SERVICES BOARDS

Recommendation (l)

We welcome the conclusion of the Interagency Agreement for the provision of education, health and social services to children with special educational needs. We hope this will provide a catalyst for improved service provision to children with special needs. In their evidence to us, both ELBs and HSSBs have described details of the ways in which they work together to meet the needs of the child. Given the collective constraints of both human and financial resources, we look to the Boards to build on their experience when they review the operation of the Agreement later this year.

Recommendation (m)

We believe that both HSSBs and ELBs may need collectively to work together more closely in meeting parental expectations for services. As the Interagency Agreement states, the HSSBs and ELBs believe that through collaborative work more effective use can be made of the available resources and best long term effect can be gained for children. We hope that they will pay full regard to parental concerns in this respect, and seek to draw on the expertise of organisations with particular interest in and experience, of assisting children with special educational needs.

Government response

The Department has been advised that the work programme of the Regional Review Group for 1999/2000 will include reviews of nursing, therapy, medical and social services support to schools. A Sub­Group has begun the review of nursing provision, with the initial focus on the particular needs of children in special schools. Consultation will take place with parents, teachers and relevant voluntary organisations on the relevant issues. Membership of the Sub­Group includes representation from the University of Ulster, MENCAP, special schools and DHSS, as well as officers of Boards and Trusts.

The Regional Review Group will also seek to develop joint training initiatives between education and health personnel. It is also proposed to audit the operation of the Inter­Agency Agreement in November.

7.  TRAINING

Recommendation (g)

We recommend that DENI reviews the current scope and extent of training for teachers in special schools and takes steps to ensure that adequate funds are available to ELBs for in­service training in this area. We also recommend that special school inspections specifically include an assessment of the current state of staff training.

Recommendation (h)

It is clear to us that the success or otherwise of a mainstream school's SEN policy will stand or fall on the competence and commitment of the SENCO. It is therefore vital that schools select their SENCO with particular care and ensure that they receive appropriate training. The Dyson Report emphasised the contribution to be made by in­service training in this respect. We understand that there is likely to be pressure to extend the duration of training for SENCOs. While we note Mr Manning's assurance that the withdrawal of funding for award­bearing in­service courses has not, as had been feared, depressed demand, we hope that DENI will take steps to ensure that appropriate funding arrangements are in place to ensure that lack of funding does not discourage potential trainees. We welcome the ring­fenced resources which DENI is providing for training, including SENCO training, which is designed to have a significant impact on the quality and status of SENCOs within schools. We believe that the introduction of the Code of Practice means that teachers generally, and not just SENCOs, will need greater training in special educational needs, not least because of the likely increase in the number of children with such needs placed in mainstream schools. We recommend the continued provision of ring­fenced training resources in this area.

Government response

DENI has continued to ear­mark substantial resources to assist with the training of school teachers and governors in the current financial year, and this is available to both special and mainstream schools. Areas requiring specialist training in, for example, speech and language problems, TEACCH, etc, will be identified as a particular focus of INSET so that teachers in special schools can keep themselves up to date with current practice and thinking. The Committee for the Early Professional Development (CEPD) of teachers will shortly undertake the preparation of focussed activities in specific special needs (eg Autism, Asperger Syndrome etc) which beginning teachers can take in the two years of early professional development, following their induction year.

Special schools will be encouraged to identify their development needs in SEN, and plan effective school­based INSET related to this. There is a particular need for conversion training courses for teachers, including beginning teachers, who are transferring from mainstream to special schools. The Department also fully endorses the recommendation that special school inspections could usefully include an assessment of the current state of staff training, and ETI will implement this immediately.

On the matter of SENCO training, the Department accepts that the competence of SENCOs is a vital component. SENCO training is substantially enhanced through ear­marked Code of Practice funding, and this has meant that significant time and resources have been allocated to enhance SENCO training, including the production of a CD­ROM training package for all schools. INSET has in this respect met the recommendation in the Dyson Report, and the related question of SENCO accreditation will be addressed.


1  The references in this Annex are to the Committee's summary of its principal conclusions and recommendations, set out in paragraph 80 of the Report. Back

 
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