Northern Ireland

Independent review of special educational needs to begin

The assembly Public Accounts Committee said there were systemic problems with SEN provision
The assembly Public Accounts Committee said there were systemic problems with SEN provision The assembly Public Accounts Committee said there were systemic problems with SEN provision

AN independent examination of special educational needs services is to begin "as soon as possible".

There is also to be a second review of the effectiveness of the Education Authority (EA).

A report by the Northern Ireland Audit Office last year called for an urgent overhaul of the SEN system.

Expenditure over the last five years has totalled more than £1.3 billion.

There are more than 67,000 children with SEN in schools. The total has risen by about 30,000 in a decade and a half.

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

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

In February, the assembly Public Accounts Committee (PAC) said there were systemic problems with SEN provision.

It added that there were elements of dysfunctionality within the EA and it recommended an independent evaluation to assess the body's effectiveness.

The committee found there was a culture within the EA "that has allowed it to continually deliver a sub-standard service for far too long".

The Department of Education has now said it has accepted several of the the PAC's recommendations.

An independent review of the EA will be commissioned. It will consider "the need for the EA and its various functions, its governance, and its efficiency and effectiveness, including the extent to which the organisation is delivering against its priorities".

The review will last six months and will be commissioned "as soon as possible once expenditure approval has been secured".

It has further agreed to a PAC call that there "should be an immediate independent, external review of the SEN service provision and processes".

This will include an evaluation of all types of SEN support provided by developing benchmarks and collating data to demonstrate the progress made by children.

It will also involve an assessment of the impact of adult assistance on children's outcomes, for both primary and post-primary pupils, to determine the best form of support.

The review will also seek to understand why there is a higher proportion of children with SEN and specifically children with a statement in Northern Ireland compared to England.

There is, as yet, no time-frame but it will also commence "as soon as possible", the department said.