Crippen discovers that children with special educational needs are being failed in Northern Ireland

It seems that the problems with regard to so called special educational needs (SEN) are not just confined to the UK mainland. Our disabled brothers and sisters and their families over in Northern Ireland are getting the short end of the stick too.

A recent report by a cross-party committee claims that “there are elements of dysfunctionality within the Northern Ireland Education Authority (EA) and that they are failing children with special educational needs (SEN) and their families.

The Stormont Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has recommended that the Department of Education (DE) hold an independent review of the EA to assess its effectiveness. The Northern Ireland Audit Office (NIAO) further questioned if the Education Authority’s procedures for pupils with SEN were “fit for purpose”. This followed an apology by the EA in February last year,  after a damning internal report found a number of failings in its SEN services.

The NI Audit Office also found that the 26-week statutory limit for assessment and statementing of children was breached in the vast majority of cases. Members of the Legislative Assembly (MLAs) on the committee also found “systemic problems” with provision for children with SEN.

More than 67,000 school children have a reported SEN, while 19,200 with the most serious needs have a statement of SEN outlining the support they are to receive in school. The EA had spent £1.3bn on SEN in the past five years, with costs rising every year.

The PAC said that while the educational achievements of those children had risen, there were many failings in the way they were supported by the department and the authority.

“PAC remains concerned at the number of children that have been failed and how long these failings have been allowed to continue for,” their report said.

The committee chair, DUP MLA William Humphrey, said that there was a culture within the EA “that has allowed it to continually deliver a sub-standard service for far too long”.

Description of cartoon for those using screen reading software

The scene is an office at the Northern Ireland Education Authority. An Asian woman is indicating a young woman who is standing at the entrance with her son who has Down’s Syndrome. A white male in a suit and tie is sat at a desk and is saying: “We’ve told her that he’s special – what more does she want?!”

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