Northern Ireland

Plans unveiled to improve special education

Education Minister Peter Weir unveiled his plans during a visit to Tullygally PS in Craigavon
Education Minister Peter Weir unveiled his plans during a visit to Tullygally PS in Craigavon

PLANS to improve special education have been unveiled just days after a scathing report called for an urgent review.

Education minister Peter Weir yesterday launched a public consultation and announced funding of £7.5m to deliver a new SEN (special educational needs) framework.

Proposed changes to the system will include a defined period in which assessments must be carried out and decisions implemented.

Children and parents will also have new rights that will ensure services meet their needs.

The Education Authority (EA) will be required to publish an annual plan of arrangements for SEN provision and each child will have a personal learning plan.

Spending on special education has spiralled by almost £80m in four years.

A report published this week by the Comptroller and Auditor General Kieran Donnelly said a review would enable resources to be focused on the types of support which have the best outcomes for children.

It is more than 13 years since the Department of Education began a review at a cost of nearly £3.6m. This is still not complete.

Nearly one in five pupils in Northern Ireland has a reported SEN, with 5.5 per cent of the school population having a statement.

The rising number of children with SEN is driving costs upwards.

The head of the EA previously apologised for "unacceptable" failings in the way the body supported pupils with special needs.

An internal audit found some children faced delays of two years before receiving a statement. About 1,300 were waiting longer than the statutory 26 weeks.

EA officials yesterday gave an update to the assembly education committee. They said the number of children waiting more than 26 weeks was falling, but was still more than 500.

Launching the consultation, Mr Weir said young people with special educational needs are among the most vulnerable in society.

"I am determined to improve the current system of special educational provision and support pupils with SEN to meet their full potential. I want to ensure that parents and children have access to an effective system that is accountable and meets their needs in a more straightforward and responsive way," he said.

"Support for pupils with SEN is a vital and valued service, and it is important to ensure that this support is sustainable and can produce lasting outcomes for our pupils.

"Schools are under pressure and I acknowledge that implementation of a new SEN framework will have an additional resourcing impact for schools. In recognition of this, I am therefore announcing a further £7.5m to be made available to schools for the 2020/21 year for the period January to March 2021."