Urgent Reform Needed to Support Children with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

23 May 2023

A new independent review of special educational needs services conducted by Ipsos has found that, under the current system and processes, early intervention for children is almost impossible.

Image of child at school in wheelchair. Headline text reads: 'Urgent reform needed to support children with special educational needs and disabilities

The report highlights the need for urgent reform. It builds on a number of critical reports and provides recommendations to improve support for children and young people with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND).

The Children’s Law Centre (CLC) has welcomed the report and called for urgent action, and the necessary ringfenced funding, to ensure meaningful changes are made to provide earlier and more effective support.

Rachel Hogan, SEND expert at the Children’s Law Centre, said:

“This is a welcome report that highlights a number of failures already well known to those who work with children with special educational needs and disabilities. We have been raising these issues for many years and at CLC we see the negative impact on children in our daily work.

Image of Rachel Hogan, with quote reading: "“This is the latest in a number of damning reports highlighting the many failures to enable equality of access to education for children with SEND and offering solutions to fix this broken system. We now need urgent action."

“This is the latest in a number of damning reports highlighting the many failures to enable equality of access to education for children with SEND and offering solutions to fix this broken system. We now need urgent action.

“Interventions must come earlier and the obstacles to securing support must be removed. Interventions should be focused on outcomes for the child, rather than internal process-focused outcomes. Those who work with children should be better trained on how to identify and provide special educational support, with all children’s services co-operating to put support around the child, with schools becoming more accessible and inclusive educational spaces.

“The report also highlights the urgent need for investing in reform. The Children’s Law Centre, along with 200 organisations and individuals, recently wrote to the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Chris Heaton-Harris, to raise concerns around cuts to children’s services. Playing politics with our children’s futures and failing to properly invest in stabilising and reforming SEND services will not only continue to harm children but it will strip our economy of valuable financial resources and a properly educated workforce in the long-term.”

The Ipsos report can be found at: https://www.education-ni.gov.uk/publications/independent-review-special-educational-needs-services-and-processes

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Education Authority Must ‘Grasp Opportunity’ for Meaningful SEND Reform

21 April 2021

The Children’s Law Centre has urged the Education Authority (EA) and the Department of Education to grasp the opportunity for meaningful improvements to the special educational needs and disability (SEND) process. The briefing comes at a time when the EA is conducting an internal improvement plan, including input from key stakeholders. It also follows shortly after the Children’s Law Centre submitted a critical response to draft SEND code and regulations.

Watch the committee briefing session

Read the briefing paper

In a briefing to the NI Assembly Education Committee, a number of key areas were identified to ensure improvements are meaningful and achieves positive outcomes. This included the need for meaningful consultation with children, their parents and carers. Other issues raised included the need to focus on early intervention and improve primary decision making, in the knowledge that over 97% of SEND Tribunal appeals achieve a successful outcome.

Rachel Hogan, the Children’s Law Centre SEND expert said: “The failings in the system have been largely operational, rather than caused by legal deficiencies. There is a robust legal framework around SEND – compliance is key. The EA and the Department must grasp this opportunity for improvement. It should be meaningful and must benefit those who are impacted by it – children.

“The SEND framework is there for the children & young people who need it. When will their voice be heard? How will they be empowered to participate in driving improvements & monitoring outcomes? This is a key concern if we want to make meaningful improvements. If we listen to those who are impacted – namely children, their parents and carers – then we can go a long way to providing better solutions.

“Those solutions must include a process for identifying unmet need, improving primary evidence-based decision making and a cultural shift in how we treat children with special educational needs and disabilities.”