Special Educational Needs (SEN)

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Special Education being Held Under a Magnifying Glass

Summary for children and young people

Summary for Children and Young people to go here


Since 2009, the number of pupils with special educational needs (SEN) in Northern Ireland has been growing at a rate that is proportionally higher than the general school population. In 2021/22, just under 20% of the school population had some form of SEN, including 22,198 pupils with a statutory statement of SEN. Pupils with SEN are increasingly being educated in mainstream schools, including Learning Support Centres attached to mainstream schools.

Children with special educational needs face specific barriers that prevent them from fully experiencing their right to an effective education. In March 2020, NICCY published ‘Too Little Too Late’ (TLTL), a Rights Based Review of Special Educational Needs (SEN) Provision in Mainstream Schools in Northern Ireland.  The Review highlighted a range of barriers that included:

  • Insufficient, poor quality and inadequately resourced services and support provision
  • A lack of early identification and assessment of need, and delays in the statutory assessment and statementing process
  • Poor communication, engagement with and involvement of children and young people, their parents/carers, and other key stakeholders, by relevant authorities
  • Poor coordination and communication between education and health in relation to identification, diagnosis, assessment and implementation of support.

When children’s special educational needs are not met, this can have a range of negative impacts on their education, mental health and wellbeing which may include social isolation, bullying, anxiety, self-harming, suicidal thoughts, delayed social development and academic progression, and negative impacts on self-esteem and self-confidence.

Monitoring Government – what is Government doing on SEN?

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (the SEND Act) received Royal Assent in March 2016, however, only a few provisions have been commenced to date. Those that have include:

  • Sections 15, 16, 18 and 19 which were commenced at the time the 2016 Act came into operation
  • Section 6
  • Section 1

More detail on the new SEN Framework can be found on the DE website, here:

In 2020, the Special Educational Needs and Disability Strategic Development Programme (SEND SDP) was established by the Department of Education to coordinate all SEND development work, including SEND Act implementation.  The SEND SDP will also oversee the implementation of TLTL recommendations and those of Reviews of SEND conducted by other organisations.

The Department of Education has also commissioned an  Independent Review of SEN to examine ‘whether SEN provision and processes are fit for purpose in terms of progress made by children, impact on children’s outcomes and whether services can be delivered more effectively and efficiently’.11  The Review will  explore a range of themes, including why there is a higher proportion of children with SEN in NI compared to England, as well as  evaluating work progressed to-date under the SEND SDP.

Our work on special educational needs

Since the publication of Too Little Too Late in 2020, NICCY has closely scrutinized progress made by relevant authorities in response to work undertaken to address our 40 recommendations.  Further information is available in our Too Little Too Late monitoring report (2022).  NICCY will continue  to scrutinize progress and  out next monitoring report will be launched on January 2023.

Additionally, NICCY has provided advice to government in relation to the draft SEN Regulations and Code of practice, the draft Special Schools Area Planning Framework and draft Framework for Specialist Provision in Mainstream Schools.  We also regularly meet with the department of education and the Education Authority  to raise concerns and receive progress updates on special educational needs provision

For more information see

  • SOCRNI 3

 More info