Changes to special education needs statementing process welcome but more needs done, says Lyttle

Changes to the special educational needs (SEN) statementing process designed to ensure no child is left more than 34 weeks for an assessment is welcome but more need done, Alliance Education spokesperson Chris Lyttle MLA has said.

The Chair of the Assembly Education Committee was speaking after Department of Education officials told the Committee this week of the planned changes, due to take effect next year. A new code of practice for the Education Authority (EA) will see the statutory time limit for the statementing process reduced from 26 weeks to 22, with an ‘upper limit’ of 34 weeks.

Currently, the maximum length of the process is meant to be 26 weeks, but a recent Audit Office report found 85 per cent of children were waiting more than that, on average 45 weeks.

“Thanks to numerous reports, we know regrettably the Department and EA have failed to provide the support SEN pupils are legally entitled to,” said Mr Lyttle.

“Early intervention and support is vital for children with SEN. Assessments need carried out in a more timely way and we will continue to work to ensure the resources are in place to help these children.

“There is still more than one in two children waiting more than six months for an assessment. To reduce that to 22 weeks, with an upper limit of 34 weeks, is welcome but it is clear more needs done. It is totally unacceptable the way SEN pupils and their families have been treated.

“I have campaigned on this issue for a number of years, so I understand the frustration and anger being felt. But as an MLA and as a Chair of the Education Committee, I pledge we will not relent until we get this system improved.”