SEN Regulations and Code of Practice

Oral Answers to Questions — Education – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 2:30 pm on 21st September 2021.

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Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP 2:30 pm, 21st September 2021

T4. Mr Weir asked the Minister of Education for an update on the implementation of the special educational needs (SEN) regulations and code of practice. (AQT 1584/17-22)

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. Following an appearance at the Education Committee on 23 June, officials have continued to collate and consider the changes to the draft SEN regulations and the associated code of practice that the consultation responses suggested. Based on the consultation responses, a number of suggested amendments and refinements have been compiled for inclusion in the finalised regulations, and they will also be reflected in the associated code of practice. The Department is engaged with the Departmental Solicitor's Office with a view to agreeing a final set of regulations that can be brought to the Education Committee and the Assembly for consideration in the autumn. In preparation for the draft regulations becoming law, my Department is working closely with colleagues in the EA, the Department of Health and the Department of Justice on the appropriate time to commence each provision. Careful sequencing is needed to ensure that the appropriate resources and procedures are in place, alongside the training of appropriate staff and boards of governors.

Photo of Peter Weir Peter Weir DUP

I thank the Minister for her response. As we all know, children have, in many ways, borne the brunt of the pandemic, and children with special educational needs may have had the toughest times during the past year or two. What additional support is being provided for SEN pupils, particularly in COVID recovery plans?

Photo of Michelle McIlveen Michelle McIlveen DUP

I thank the Member for his question. He makes a valid point about SEN children. Cross-departmental actions for vulnerable children and young people during the COVID-19 pandemic were drafted in September 2020, of which, of course, the Member will be aware. The jointly agreed definition of "vulnerable" in the actions included children and young people with special educational needs. I recognise that the pandemic continues to have a significant impact on children and young people with SEN and on their emotional health and well-being. That has to be and remains a priority for my Department.

The framework that was launched in February 2021 for emotional health and well-being provides for a range of support programmes, including funding of £5 million for a new pilot of a primary school counselling service, which will be launched shortly, and an additional £5 million well-being fund being made available for distribution across schools. Some £850,000 was also made available to special schools during the 2020-21 academic year to support the delivery of the Engage programme, and special schools were also incorporated into the Engage II programme, which was launched on 6 September.

The Department also supported the implementation of summer provisions across schools by providing funding of £4·5 million. That enabled an enhanced programme of summer activities right across special schools.

The Member will be aware of my recent announcement for £16 million to assist with COVID-19 and to increase educational standards. That is to give support for learning and engagement. Last week, we launched an £800,000 fund for special schools to support outdoor space for play and learning.