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“While I can report some important progress for children who have special educational needs, it again is ‘Too Little, Too Late’. What we really need to see in the next Assembly mandate is a concerted effort to progress and renew the system that is there to support our children.”
The 2020 report assessed the adequacy and effectiveness of SEN provision in mainstream schools and identified the barriers which prevent children and young people with SEN, or suspected SEN, from fully realising their right to an effective education. It produced 40 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the Department of Education.
Koulla continued: “The Review revealed a system under extreme pressure, unable to respond to the scale of need and the complexity of issues that children are facing/presenting. It yielded evidence of the detrimental impact on children’s education and mental health and wellbeing when their needs are not met. It also highlighted the frustrations of many parents and professionals in trying to have their voices heard by an education system that had consistently demonstrated an inability to prioritise and respect the perspective and experience of these key stakeholders.
“The issue of communications is an area where there has been good progress. The new SEN Framework requires Relevant Authorities to have regard to the views of the child and that the Education Authority, ‘as a matter of good practice’, should also produce guidelines for schools on these new processes including annual reviews. These are important as they provide clarity for parents/carers, children and young people who sometimes weren’t aware of the potential implications of these for access to services for their child.”
The department has established the Special Educational Needs and Disability Strategic Development Programme (SEND SDP) to provide a single framework to co-ordinate all SEND development work including SEND Act implementation and to undertake work required to address the significant range of recommendations set out in TLTL and other reviews ie. Northern Ireland Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee, Council for Catholic Maintained Schools and Department of Education (DE).
“While this is positive, progress has been significantly hindered by Covid[i] and, to a greater extent lack of, and uncertainty about, funding which the three year budget would have addressed to some degree. It is evident that only 1 of my recommendations is showing good progress as mentioned above, 32 are showing evidence of fledgling progress or potential and there is no evidence of progress in 7 of my recommendations.
“Children with SEN and their families have been waiting too long and have seen too many reports being published about the issues they face. What they, and our future children and families, need now is action. A good structure is in place to do this, funding must follow so change to improve the lives of these children can happen. I will be making sure this is at the top of the next Assembly’s priority list.”
[i] The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Education and Health resources were diverted to deal with the crisis, particularly across much of 2020,
Worryingly, during this period NICCY also saw a marked decline in the availability of supports and services for children and young people with SEN as a result of restrictions imposed during the pandemic. The abrupt suspension of services, coupled with the closure of schools, meant children were missing critical support received prior to the pandemic and many Parents / Carers experienced a withdrawal of vital respite services resulting in devastating effects. Overall, the already difficult situation that children and young people with SEN, and suspected SEN, were facing before the onset of the pandemic in accessing their right to education, was exacerbated by the response to it.