Special Educational Needs: Proposals to change special needs support | #specialneeds | #kids | #parenting | #parenting | #kids

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There are more than 67,000 children with special educational needs in NI’s schools

Decisions on what support pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) get are to be made in 22 weeks rather than 26 in future.

That is one of Department of Education’s (DE) main proposals to change the way children with SEN are helped in school.

The current 26-week statutory limit for the assessment and statementing process is breached in 85% of cases.

The Education Authority (EA) has apologised for failings in SEN support.

An internal audit found “unnecessary and undue delays” in the statutory assessment and statementing process and raised concerns about the security of confidential information about children kept by the EA.

Cynthia Currie from the EA told MLAs on Stormont’s Education Committee on Wednesday that there had been “significant improvements” in EA’s performance in 2020 when it came to the statementing process.

“Of the total 530 cases open greater than 26 weeks approximately 400, 70 per cent, have been issued with draft statements or are in the final stage of the process – the agreement of the draft statement, agreement of placement and issue of final statement,” she said.

Ms Currie also said that no children were now waiting more than 80 weeks for their statementing process to be completed.

However, 19 children have been waiting longer than 60 weeks – though that has reduced from 265 children in November 2019.

Committee chair Chris Lyttle, from the Alliance Party, said it was “profoundly regrettable that it took such a systemic failure of children with SEN for a more robust and co-ordinated approach to be taken”.

“There are serious questions to be answered as to how we got to this situation,” he added.

Both Mr Lyttle and the deputy chair Sinn Féin MLA Karen Mullan called for an independent review of the EA’s support for pupils with SEN.

“Principals and parents are telling me that they’re still not seeing improvements,” Ms Mullan said.

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In response to a question from the DUP MLA Robin Newton, Una Turbitt from the EA acknowledged that many parents felt they had to “fight” with the EA to get help for their children.

Other MLAs on the committee highlighted a number of other problems pupils and their families faced in getting appropriate support.

As part of the plans to change provision for pupils with SEN, DE has proposed a number of changes to the current arrangements.

For instance, the EA will be required to publish an annual plan of arrangements for SEN provision and each child with SEN will be required to have a personal learning plan.

Education Minister Peter Weir has launched a consultation on the proposals.

“At this stage it’s a consultation for the next 12 weeks so we don’t suggest that everything is absolutely perfect,” he told BBC News NI.

“Even if we were very happy with what was out there, we should always be looking to provide the best possible and therefore always looking to see where we can have levels of improvement.”

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