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(UK) Northern Ireland: SPED system needs 'urgent overhaul'; 36% increase in 9 yrs

Sept 29, 2020, Belfast Telegraph: Auditors call for urgent overhaul of special educational needs provision in NI https://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/auditors-call-for-urgent-overhaul-of-special-educational-needs-provision-in-ni-39571345.html A time limit for issuing statements of special educational needs for children is broken in almost nine out of every ten cases. A time limit for issuing statements of special educational needs is broken for nearly nine out of every ten children assessed in Northern Ireland, audits have found. In a scathing report on special needs provision, auditors found that 85% of statements are issued outside the 26-week statutory limit. Auditor general Kieran Donnelly has called for an “urgent overhaul” of the system to improve provision for children with special educational needs (SEN). There remains evidence of an inconsistent and delayed approach to assessing pupils and getting them access to the help they need Auditor general Kieran Donnelly He warned that the current system is not financially sustainable…. The NI Audit Office found that the number of children with statements, 19,200, is almost treble the Department of Education’s estimate of those within the wider school population who should require one (2% compared with 5.5%). It found there had been a 36% increase in the number of statements issued in the last nine years. Last year there were 67,224 children with a reported special educational need in Northern Ireland, including those with and without formal statements…. Three years on, they said all of the ten recommendations remain outstanding and the percentage of statements issued outside the statutory 26-week limit has actually risen from 79% to 85%. Auditors also found inaccuracies in the way compliance with the timeframe was being recorded, warning that performance could actually be “worse than that reported”. The Audit Office, which evaluates value for money provided by public bodies, found that £312 million [$401M U.S.] was spent on special needs provision in 2019/20 – a significant increase on the £233 million [$300M U.S.] spent in 2015-16. It said a £3.6 million departmental review into how SEN provision was delivered had still not been completed, 13 years after it was started. Auditors said there was “no evidence” that schools were identifying children with SEN in a “consistent and timely way”. They said the department and Education Authority could not demonstrate value for money in the provision of support to children with SEN. Mr Donnelly said there was a need for a “systemic review of the SEN policies, processes, services and funding model”…. “It is also disappointing that despite growing expenditure, the department and the Education Authority are still unable to clearly demonstrate value for money. …