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Departmental Consultation - Special Educational Needs and Inclusion

Committee for Education Response to the Department’s Consultation

‘Every School a Good School: The Way Forward of Special Educational Needs and Inclusion’

1. The Committee for Education welcomed the Minister’s decision to extend the consultation period on these policy proposals to allow parents and stakeholders the time to consider the proposals and respond to them.

2. The Committee was briefed by senior Departmental officials on the SEN & Inclusion policy proposals on 21 October 2009 when Committee Members raised a significant number of concerns, including:

3. The Committee’s concerns were not in any way diminished by briefings from the Children with Disabilities Strategic Alliance (CDSA) at the Committee’s meeting on 11 November 2009 and from the Northern Ireland Teachers’ Council (NITC) at its meeting on 25 November 2009.

4. Also, the Committee was made aware, though an almost unparalleled level of lobbying by parents and stakeholder organisations, of a groundswell of concern and anxiety about the proposed changes among those who would be most affected by them. A number of key stakeholders copied their consultation responses to the Committee and some of these can be accessed on the Committee’s web pages1.

5. This groundswell of concern led the Committee to host an event in Parliament Buildings which provided a platform for parents and stakeholders to raise their concerns directly with Departmental officials and helped inform the Committee’s scrutiny of the policy proposals. The Committee requested Hansard to prepare a full transcript of this event which is now available on the Committee’s website2 and would ask the Department to consider the numerous issues raised by stakeholders.

6. This Committee event, evidence sessions and correspondence with stakeholders identified a number of serious concerns. The key areas of concern are summarised below and referenced to individuals and organisations who raised concerns and issues, together with the Committee’s comments and/or recommendations.

Access to External Support/Early Diagnosis

7. While the Committee welcomed the policy proposals’ emphasis on early identification of children with special educational needs, itshared the concerns raised by Mencap, CDSA and NITC below, which appear to arise from para 13.6 of the policy proposals, namely the requirement that ‘… before availing of any external support, the school must be able to demonstrate that it has taken appropriate and reasonable action to meet the child’s needs but that the desired progress has not been achieved.’3

Coordinated Support Plans

8. The Committee shares the concerns raised by a number of stakeholders that there was a lack of clear definitions and consequent lack of certainty about the threshold required before a child would be entitled to the legal protection currently available to children with Statements:

On this subject the Committee noted the following exchange in the course of Education Questions on 25 January 2010 and in particular the words highlighted in bold type below:

Mr McCallister : Does the Minister acknowledge the findings of the Lamb inquiry, which showed that parents value a statement of special educational needs because it is legally enforceable and that they want a new system to work better than the present one? Will she assure the House that she will take into consideration the findings of the Lamb inquiry? Does she think that parents have a lack of trust in her to deliver a suitable policy?

The Minister of Education : Is í is aidhm do na tograí ná soláthar do pháistí agus do dhaoine óga a bhfuil riachtanais speisialta oideachais acu a fheabhsú taobh istigh den scoil.

The proposals aim to enhance the provision for children and young people with special educational needs within their school setting, by ensuring that they get the right support at the right time, without the need to wait for long periods for external assessment or support when it can be provided from within the school’s resources. The proposals do not and will not reduce the rights of parents as currently available to them through the appeals mechanism of the special educational needs and disability tribunal. Depending on the detailed outworking of the proposals,parental rights may be differently reflected, but that detail is yet to be developed and can only be considered following consideration of the responses to the consultation.

The Research commissioned by the Committee noted that the 2009 Act in Scotland introduced a requirement that Education Authorities in Scotland were required to offer an independent mediation service (as opposed to in-house) and a free of charge advocacy system for Tribunal proceedings.

The Committee asks the Minister to consider if it is reasonable to expect stakeholders to approve a direction of travel without clarity about the impact on the legal rights of children with SEN. They fear that approval of the direction of travel will mean that they have to live with the ‘detailed outworking of the proposals’ whether they like it or not.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Department provide stakeholders with the level of detail needed to make the outworkings (or the range of possible outworkings) of the policy proposals clear, so that stakeholders can make an informed response on the fundamental direction of travel.

Reform of the existing system

9. The Committee shares the concerns of a number of stakeholders (set out below) who, while acknowledging the shortcomings of the existing system of Statementing and Annual Review, expressed support for aspects of it. The general thrust of these comments was that reform of the existing system was preferable to the level of change in the policy proposals. In this context the Committee noted the cross-E&LBs ‘Provisional Criteria for Statutory Assessment’ and ‘Good Practice Guidelines’ as mechanisms which may go some way to address the issue of ‘inconsistency in assessment and levels of support across the five Education and Library Boards’.

Recommendation: The Committee recommends that the Minister actively consider options for reforming or building upon the existing system of SEN provision.

Multi-Disciplinary Groups

10. The Committee shares concerns around the role of the multi-disciplinary groups (MGs), envisaged in the policy proposals and the increase in the amount of work required to operate the multi-disciplinary groups effectively.

Role of Special Schools, Teachers and Assessment

11. Teachers fear that the ‘enhanced role of the school’ under the proposals will mean that teachers will be held responsible for the problems and shortcomings of new system ( NITC).


Testing/Risk Analysis/Outcomes

12. The Committee noted a guarded welcome for the Department’s proposals to ‘base children’s provision on outcomes’ from Dr Tony Byrne ( Parents’ Education as Autism Therapists).


13. The Committee welcomes the promise of further consultation from Departmental officials at the Committee’s SEN event on 20 January 2010 –“if legislation was needed, as it would be if Statements were to be discontinued, there would be consultation. If there was major change in funding, there would be consultation. There would be further consultation on the minutiae of the details as we work through the results of the document .” The Committee is unsure at this stage that this level of further consultation will be sufficient to secure stakeholder confidence in the process.

14. The Committee also noted that in the SEN debate in the Assembly on 26 January the Minister, in her concluding remarks, stated:

‘ After the public consultation period ends, the Department’s immediate work programme will be to consider and analyse the responses received and to compile and publish a summary response document. A thorough analysis of those responses will guide and inform the development of the detailed policy proposals for implementation, including financial and operational considerations.

Work is under way on the development of a school capacity-building programme, which will begin to be rolled out during the 2010-11 school year. That sits well within the current statutory framework’.

15. The Committee shared concerns that this could be interpreted as a decision having already been taken that the Minister was going to introduce the policy in broadly the terms it has been presented in the consultation document – otherwise why would the Department be pressing ahead with the development of the training/capacity building programme referred to in policy proposal. ( Fiona O’Toole)

16. The Committee noted the following exchange at its 20 January event:

Mrs Angus (DE):

“The document sets out, as all consultation documents do, the broad direction of travel for special educational needs, and the purpose of the consultation process is to find out people’s views in light of that broad direction of policy travel, so that the Minister and the Department can then consider future arrangements. As with all such documents, when a broad direction of travel is set, we then work on the fine detail of the proposals. The special educational needs framework is very complex, so a lot of work will need to be done after the direction of travel is set.”

Mr Derek Doherty (Aspergers Network):

“I am a parent and carer, and I work with quite a few other organisations that have links with parents and carers. I have yet to speak to a charity or voluntary organisation that does not think that this consultation process is the worst that they have ever come across.” [Applause]


17. In relation to:

The Committee strongly recommends that the Minister reviews her policy proposals in the light of the numerous concerns raised by stakeholders (as set out above).

Conclusion - Setting the Direction of Travel

18. The proposed policy changes to Special Educational Needs have created major concerns and anxieties for parents, teachers and organisations representing children with disabilities. The Committee considers that the effectiveness of any policy proposals which the Minister and Department take forward on foot of this consultation will be affected by the very negative feelings for the consultation exercise expressed by those parents and other SEN key stakeholders.

19. The Committee welcomes the assurance in the Minister’s letter of 11 January 2010 that ‘the existing SEN framework will remain in place until any future policy has been agreed.’

20. The Committee previously expressed the hope that the Minister’s extension of the consultation period indicated a willingness by the Minister to take on board the concerns of parents and professionals living and working with children with Special Educational Needs. The Committee believes that such a willingness will be essential to the success of this policy review.

21. In the Department’s letter of 13 October 2009 to the Committee it stated:

“The Department is therefore seeking to gauge whether there is general agreement to the overarching high level framework proposed by the Review and with the overall direction of flow that the needs of the majority of children should be able to be met within school. Feedback on this will then enable the detailed outworking of the Review to be addressed at the next stage in the policy development process”

22. The Committee’s sense is that stakeholder confidence in the consultation process would be much greater if stakeholders were provided with much more information in terms of the outworking of the policy proposals. The Committee believes that it is difficult for parents and other stakeholders to comment on the ‘proposed direction of travel’ without greater clarity about the destination.

23. The Committee requests a full written submission analysis of the consultation responses and what the Minister/Department proposes to do with each policy proposal, together with proposed action in the form of an Action Plan including timescales

10 February 2010

1 Stakeholder Responses -

2 Hansard of the Committee Event on 20 January -

3 Policy Proposals, para 13.6.

4 Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 and the 2009 Amendment Act – Assembly Research and Library Services -

5 Lamb Report -