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NICCY holds roundtable at Stormont on SEND crisis

The Commissioner for Children and Young People hosted a round table, with MLAs from the five main parties, on the need for an emergency response to address issues surrounding Special Educational Needs (SEN).

The meeting at Parliament Buildings was called in response to the significant concerns around the provision of SEN services.

Those involved in the discussions agreed that SEN would be a priority for the Education Committee, for other relevant bodies to be invited to the next set of discussions with NICCY and there was a call for a joint committee on SEN between the Health and Education Committees.

In 2023/24, 19.2% of Northern Ireland’s school population (68,200 pupils) were identified as having some form of SEN.

Special schools have struggled to keep up with demand for placements, particularly during key transitional stages due to a lack of investment in the special schools estate.

In response, the Education Authority (EA) has established a greater number of specialist provisions in mainstream schools’ (SPiMs) throughout the region.

The number of pupils enrolled in SPiMs in nursery, primary, and post-primary schools has risen to over 3,800 pupils, accounting for 5.6% of all SEN pupils in school and preschool settings, marking an increase of nearly 650 pupils from the previous year.

Commissioner Chris Quinn welcomed the opportunity to address the challenges impacting many families with MLA’s.

“I want to see an emergency response to this situation. I am concerned that children’s needs are not being met and we need to take affirmative action now. We saw during the COVID-19 pandemic how, when there is a will, there is a way’.

“I believe that the will is there, and I hope the discussions today can help kickstart positive actions to tackle the SEND crisis. Let’s grasp this issue and deliver for children, their parents and carers without delay.

“The team at NICCY and I have highlighted to Elected Representatives the importance of ongoing engagement and effective communication with children, young people, parents, carers, and educators to enhance stakeholder involvement and communication channels.

“Due to capacity constraints, significant pressures are expected for SEND placements in the upcoming 2024/25 school year. The Department of Education has indicated a requirement for 1000 additional places.

“There are several key considerations essential for addressing various facets of the SEND issue. The statementing process, proficient parental communication by the EA, prompt and suitable placements, effective collaboration between Departments and Trusts, access to Support Services, transportation and other critical components.

“These unresolved issues result in children and their families enduring prolonged waits, which is unacceptable. In the future, it is vital to ensure the required adjustments and allocation of resources are available to accelerate the long-awaited transformation of our SEND system.

“Establishing clear and attainable goals is crucial for tracking progress and assessing the beneficial effects on children’s requirements.

“I will continue to ensure these concerns are raised with relevant authorities so we can reassure families that we are doing everything possible to safeguard children’s rights.”