The Northern Ireland Audit Office has published its Impact Review report on Special Educational Needs. This follows the report published in 2017 which highlighted that the number of children with SEN and the associated costs were continuing to rise in Northern Ireland. The report also highlighted inconsistencies in the identification of children with SEN and unacceptable delays in the statement process. This report made 10 recommendations and concluded that neither the Department for Education nor the Education Authority could demonstrate value for money in the provision of support to children with SEN in mainstream schools.
The report published today is a follow-up report. It suggests that an “urgent review and overhaul of SEN policies and processes is needed to respond to rising costs and increasing demand”. The report finds that annual expenditure on SEN reached £312 million in 2019-20, an increase from £233 million in 2015-16. This means that expenditure over the last five years has totalled over £1.3 billion. The report is critical of the Department’s review of SEN, stating it had been over 13 years since this review began, at a cost of nearly £3.6 million, but the review was still not yet complete.
Nearly one in five pupils in Northern Ireland has a reported SEN, with 5.5% of the school population having a statement. There has been a 36% increase in children with a statement in the past nine years. As a result, the report today recommends that the Department and the Education Authority consider the benefits of directing more investment towards effective early intervention measures which may, in turn, reduce the requirements for statements of SEN. Overall, the follow-up reports finds that whilst some progress has been made, none of the 10 previous recommendations have been fully addressed.
The full report can be found here.