The Education Authority (EA) has recently launched two consultations on an “ambitious programme of change” that aims to transform special educational needs (SEN) provision across Northern Ireland.
The Special Schools Area Planning Framework advocates a consistent model across all areas of Northern Ireland that would see all special schools provide nursery, primary, post-primary and post-16 education in the same school. Currently, only half of NI’s 40 special schools offer this 3-19 years provision.
The second consultation document, a Framework for Specialist Provision in Mainstream Schools, focuses on increasing the number of specialist provisions in mainstream primary and post-primary schools.
This framework also contains a proposal to pilot a new process to significantly speed up the establishment of specialist provision in mainstream schools.
“Currently the establishment of a specialist provision within a mainstream school takes at least one year from inception to approval,” explained EA Director of Education Michele Corkey.
“Under the new pilot proposal, the establishment of specialist provisions would be approved within an annual plan from the EA. The plan is subject to all legislative duties around consultation and will have a robust process in place to gather the views of all stakeholders.
“In essence, the pilot proposal would enable EA and its partners to move at pace to increase the number of specialist provisions in mainstream schools and provide greater access to educational opportunities for SEN pupils and address the geographical inconsistencies which currently exist.
“Not everyone has the same access to special schools and specialist provisions, with some areas of Northern Ireland having no specialist provision, or not enough to meet the needs of the local area. Therefore some pupils have to travel long distances if they want to attend a special school or specialist provision.”
The proposals have been developed following engagement with a range of key stakeholders with a particular interest in special education such as the Department of Education, health and social care professionals and school principals.
“The EA is seeking to put in place an ambitious programme of change in order to provide pupils and parents with a greater level of equity in relation to access to SEN provision,” said Ms Corkey.
“I believe that the proposed frameworks for future provision of SEN provision across special and mainstream schools will help us to ensure positive long term outcomes for children across Northern Ireland and enhance consistency in the accessibility of our services.”
The Draft Framework for Specialist Provision in Mainstream Schools and Draft Special Schools Area Planning Framework are available on the EA website, with an online questionnaire, at www.eani.org.uk/consultations. The consultations will run from Friday 16 October to Friday 11 December.