Special needs support 'not scrapped'

Published Wednesday, 01 February 2012
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Proposed changes to the special educational needs system in Northern Ireland are about cutting bureaucracy, not support for children and their families, the Education Minister has said.

Special needs support 'not scrapped'
Concerns have been raised over changes to the special educational needs system. (© UTV)

A review of special needs education has been ongoing for two-and-a-half years, with a report published earlier this week.

"I was shocked to hear reports this morning suggesting that the statementing process was to be scrapped," Sinn Féin's John O'Dowd said.

"Headlines like these will only raise fears among parents about the future provision for their children."

But that process of statementing will undergo significant changes, if current plans go ahead, and will be broadly replaced by Co-ordinated Support Plans - in a move the minister says will cut delays.

I am in the business of improving the support we provide to children with a special educational need – not scrapping the support already in place.

John O’Dowd, Sinn Féin

"The present system is heavily bureaucratic and sees too much effort invested in feeding the system as opposed to supporting children. This has to change," Mr O'Dowd said.

Currently, the annual spend on special needs education is £210m - the minister has denied the proposals are a cost-cutting exercise or a bid to close special needs schools.

"I want to ensure schools are better equipped to deal with the needs of SEN pupils and that, where additional support is required, it can be provided without having to go through the current, protracted statutory assessment process," he added.

A formal consultation on the changes ran over nearly five months and generated 2,902 responses, with much concern about the impact, how the changes would actually be implemented and funding.

Concerns have also been raised about a perceived increased workload for school staff.

On Wednesday, DUP chair of the Education Committee Mervyn Storey said: "If the Minister proceeds with some of these proposals, many teachers will find themselves taking on the role of a social worker rather than a teacher."

I remain to be convinced that the Department of Education has in place the appropriate structures that will enable teachers in the classroom to draw a distinction between what are the educational needs and the health needs of a child.

Mervyn Storey, DUP

Among the submissions made to the consultation were a number of petitions, including a list of 1,245 signatures presented to the Stormont Assembly.

In order to test some of the key proposals, two pilot programmes have already been developed.

An 'Early Years' scheme aims to identify, assess and deal appropriately with special educational needs in the year before a child is due to start school, while a 'Level A Educational Testing' pilot aims to provide mainstream schools with a coordinated and informed capacity to identify and assess SEN pupils.

The numbers of special needs children in schools across Northern Ireland are rising, with nearly 20% of pupils on the SEN register - 64,900 of the total 330,000 school population.

Only 4,500 of those pupils attend one of 41 special schools, with the majority in mainstream units.

Further engagement with parents, schools, children and other stakeholders will now take place, in order to find out how best to move forward - but the Minister hopes to have final proposals within weeks.

© UTV News
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4 Comments
Lynne O''Riordan in Belfast wrote (902 days ago):
Only two comments so far to this story? I suppose any parents having heard the story are far too busy getting their children's needs met, rather than replying to this story - it is indeed, a full time job trying to have your child's special educational needs met. First Catriona Ruane who launched the SEN Review and now O'Dowd pushing it through. Nice one Sinn Fein - thanks a bunch. This is such bad news for all children who have SEN. When will N.Ireland ever catch up with the rest of the world instead of making children with SEN and their families pay for something that is not the children's fault. Does anyone who is not a parent of a child who has SEN truly understand the heartache and heartbreak of watching a child fail at school because help and knowledge is being denied or simply not there and with no recourse to acquire it? just appalling. Kids with SEN are way down the list of priorities in N.Ireland and now more than ever this is so. Shame on you O'Dowd.
Lorraine in Kircubbin wrote (902 days ago):
I have 2 children with Down's syndrome, one in a Special Needs school and one in mainstream. I am really worried what these new proposals will mean for them. My daughter is doing brilliantly at mainstream but the one-to-one classroom assistant support is vital and I am v concerned these changes could mean she loses that.
Shauna in Cookstown wrote (902 days ago):
The entire system is a disgrace,I've fought for years to get my autistic son the help he needs and deserves but the schools and education boards fight you all the way I don't trust any of them and think the only people they are helping is themsleves word of warning once we agree to these changes that's it there's no going back!! REMEMBER PARENTS ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL fight for your child because no one else will.
mike2 in LURGAN wrote (902 days ago):
It took my wife and I almost 3 years to get my son statemented and only after a lot of red tape and obstacles and only for the help of a TEACHER who specialized in SEN from another school did we succeed what hope have these children got I think this is just a way of cutting costs and children will suffer
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