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(UK) BBC: 20% of students in NI are special need; 45 week wait for assessment

Dec 3, 2020, BBC News: NI education: Special educational needs support changes 'need funding' https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-55163044 There are more than 67,000 children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland's schools - around one in five of all pupils Children should not wait more than 34 weeks for an assessment and statement of special educational needs (SEN). That is according to changes planned by the Department of Education (DE) in how children with SEN are supported. But a DE official told Stormont's education committee it needed another £30m [$40M U.S.] a year to fund the changes. There have been numerous highly critical reports into failures to adequately support pupils with SEN in Northern Ireland. In September, the NI Audit Office (NIAO) questioned if the Education Authority's (EA) procedures for those pupils were "fit for purpose". That followed a damning internal audit carried out by the EA which uncovered multiple failings. There is currently a further internal EA investigation into SEN being carried out by three EA board members and two independent experts. Many of the failings uncovered involved "unnecessary and undue delays" in the statutory assessment and statementing process. If a pupil is believed to need extra support in school due to SEN, the EA carries out an assessment of their needs and then issues a statement of what additional help they are to receive. The maximum length of time for that process is meant to be 26 weeks, although there can be valid reasons for it taking longer than that - for example, if the EA needs to get advice about the child from a number of agencies. The NIAO found that 85% of children were waiting more than the statutory 26 weeks for an assessment and statement of SEN. Its report also said pupils were waiting an average of 45 weeks for the SEN assessment process to be completed. Under new regulations and a code of practice for children with SEN, the statutory time limit for the EA to make an assessment and statement will be reduced from 26 to 22 weeks. However, Ricky Irwin, from the DE, said there would be an "upper limit" of 34 weeks for the EA to complete the process…. Mr Irwin said that was a "sea change" which should bring waiting times down. But he also said that the DE needed another £30m a year to implement the planned changes, despite spending more than £300m [$402M] a year on SEN at present…. Committee chair, Alliance MLA Chris Lyttle, asked if there were enough resources to change "abject failure". "The new regulations and code of practice can introduce new time limits and new deadlines but if the resources aren't in place are they going to address the abject failure to assess and respond to special educational needs of children in a timely way?" he asked…. DUP MLA William Humphrey, meanwhile, pointed out that 22 weeks was "still five and a half months" which brought "huge pressure" on children, their families and their schools. "It will still remain a massive challenge to do this within 22 weeks," Mr Irwin responded. There are more than 67,000 children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland's schools - around one in five of all pupils.