Northern Ireland

Reform of support for children with special educational needs is needed – study

A new report has urged reform of SEN provision in Northern Ireland (PA Archive)
A new report has urged reform of SEN provision in Northern Ireland (PA Archive)

Reform of the provision of support for children with special educational needs (SEN) in Northern Ireland is required as demand soars, a study has found.

A report, commissioned by the Department of Education, also found that the cost of providing services in the region has risen from £254 million in 2017/18 to £417 million in 2021/22 – a rise of £163 million.

The Independent Review of Special Educational Needs report by Ipsos has made a number of recommendations including that the department should set a plan to implement transformational change to SEN and the wider education system within reasonable timescales.

Permanent Secretary Mark Browne said the transformation of services is a “key priority for the department, the Education Authority, and the whole education sector”.

“Children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) deserve a high quality, child centred and cost-effective education which meets their individual needs,” he said.

“This report indicates that systemic reform is critical to ensure the delivery of high quality, child-centred provision through earlier intervention, a highly skilled and trained workforce and pupil support services that are flexible, timely and responsive as children’s needs emerge.

“There are a number of recommendations contained in this review, some of which will challenge how things are currently done, however, I am confident that in collaboration with key partners we can drive forward change at pace to improve the lives of all children with special educational needs.”

Una Turbitt, Interim Director for Children and Young People’s Services in the Education Authority said they will study the report carefully.

“A key priority for us is restoring confidence in the system,” she said.

“The financial pressures are unprecedented but given the need for systemic change we are working closely with the Department of Education to consider our approach to transformation and how best to deliver actions to improve outcomes for our children more quickly.

“It is essential that there is a sustainable funding model for education that will allow us to invest in our children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities.”

The Children’s Law Centre (CLC) called for urgent action in the wake of the report.

Rachel Hogan, from the CLC, said issues highlighted are “already well known to those who work with children with special educational needs and disabilities”.

“This is the latest in a number of damning reports highlighting the many failures to enable equality of access to education for children with SEND and offering solutions to fix this broken system. We now need urgent action,” she said.

“Interventions should be focused on outcomes for the child, rather than internal process-focused outcomes.

“Those who work with children should be better trained on how to identify and provide special educational support, with all children’s services co-operating to put support around the child, with schools becoming more accessible and inclusive educational spaces.”