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(UK) BBC covers special education crisis in Northern Ireland; 'not financially sustainable'

Sept 29, 2020, BBC: Special Educational Needs: 'Urgent overhaul needed in NI' https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-54333233 An "urgent review and overhaul" of how the Education Authority provides support for children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) is required. That is according to the NI Audit Office. It has questioned if the Education Authority's procedures for pupils with SEN are "fit for purpose". It also found that 85% of children were waiting more than the statutory 26 weeks for an assessment and statement of SEN. In February, the Education Autority (EA) apologised after a damning internal report found a number of failings in its SEN services. The Audit Office, which is Northern Ireland's spending watchdog, previously reported on support for children with SEN in 2017. It found the Department of Education (DE) could not demonstrate it was providing effective support for those children. In its latest report, the NI Audit Office (NIAO) assessed what the Department of Education and the Education Authority had done in response to the recommendations for improvement it provided in 2017. It said that none of the recommendations it made to DE in 2017 "have been fully implemented and work remains to be done". Views from the coalface Diane Dawson, principal of Braniel Nursery and Primary School "It's shocking and its damning, but it's not a surprise to us in schools, on the ground. "Absolutely shameful that three years later the report has actually worsened, the statistics have gotten worse. "But these children are not statistics. "I have children sitting in my school, one of whom waited 80 weeks for the assessment and statement to take place, another one 62 weeks and I've got a child at the minute waiting 52 weeks from last year. "The bottleneck seems to be the admin and the bureaucracy once the paperwork goes to the Education Authority." Gemma Godfrey-Beggs, mum to five-year-old Evie "We started the process [to get a statement for Evie] on 27 September 2019. "The statement would give her the access that she needs so she can learn in her environment. "The difference it would make to her to have the equipment, the one-to-one attention that she needs at present would make the world of difference. "They are failing us, the Education Authority are failing us, failing our children. "It's very hard to have sympathy when there just seems to be obstacles in your way every time." There are more than 67,000 children with special educational needs in Northern Ireland's schools - around one in five of all pupils. The audit office found that "significant delays in assessing and providing for children persist," and questioned whether the EA's data was reliable. It found, for instance, that the percentage of children waiting over 26 weeks for the assessment process for SEN had increased from 79% in 2015-16 to 85% in 2019-20. Pupils were waiting an average of 45 weeks for the SEN assessment process to be completed. One pupil had waited 463 weeks - almost nine years - the NIAO found, although it did not give any further details of the case. … "We also found that the start date on the system for measuring compliance with the 26-week statutory timeframe is not being accurately or consistently recorded," the NIAO said. "Consequently, the data currently held by the EA with regards to performance against the 26-week timeframe is not accurate and performance could be worse than that reported. "There is a clear need for an urgent review and overhaul of the SEN processes in place within the EA." The watchdog's report also said the cost of the EA's support for children with SEN across mainstream and special schools had risen from £233m [$301M U.S.] in 2015-16 to £311m [$W402M U.S.] in 2019-20. "In our opinion, the current funding of SEN services is not financially sustainable," the NIAO said. "There is a need for a fundamental review to consider the effectiveness of the funding allocated to all stages of the SEN process to ensure the needs of children, with or without a statement, are met."… A review of SEN issues begun by the Department of Education 13 years ago has cost £3.6m to date, but is still not complete. "Whilst it is evident that work is under way to address our recommendations, the significant issues identified in our 2017 report persist," the NIAO report concluded. "In the absence of any meaningful assessment or inspection there is no evidence that schools are identifying children with SEN in a consistent and timely way….