Country information for UK (Northern Ireland) - Legislation and policy
In Northern Ireland, special educational provision serves to remove or diminish the barriers to achievement which children and young people with special needs may face. These may include the classroom approach to learning or the physical nature of the learning environment.
Provision for all learners with special educational needs (SEN) is met within what is referred to as the SEN Framework, which comprises the following:
- the Education (Northern Ireland – NI) Order 1996
- the Special Educational Needs and Disability Order (NI) 2005
- the Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Act 2016
- the Education (Special Educational Needs) Regulations (NI) 2005
- the 1998 Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs and the 2005 Supplement to the Code.
The above Orders, the Act and the Regulations place statutory responsibility for securing provision for learners with SEN with the Education Authority (EA) and schools. They also detail the need for co-operation between Health and Social Care Trusts (HSCTs) and the EA during the SEN statutory assessment process.
The legislative definition of SEN is ‘a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made’.
A learner has a learning difficulty if:
- they have a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of learners of their age;
- they have a disability which either prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for learners of their age in mainstream schools;
- they have not attained the lower limit of compulsory school age and are, or would be, if special educational provision were not made for them, likely to fall into the two categories above when they are of compulsory school age.
The Orders, the Act and the Regulations detail rights for parents, including extended rights of appeal against EA decisions. The Special Educational Needs and Disability (NI) Order 2005 (SENDO) strengthened the rights of learners with SEN to be educated in mainstream schools, where their parents want this and the interests of other learners can be protected.
SENDO also introduced disability discrimination provisions that apply to schools and the EA.
The remit of the Special Educational Needs Tribunal, now known as the Special Educational Needs and Disability Tribunal, was extended to hear claims of disability discrimination against schools and the EA.
SENDO placed new duties on the EA, including the provision of advice and information on SEN matters for parents and schools and an informal means of avoiding and resolving disputes between parents and schools and/or the EA – the Dispute Avoidance and Resolution Service.
SENDO requires the EA and other school authorities to review and improve physical accessibility to school buildings.
A review of the SEN Framework in Northern Ireland is nearly complete. The passing of the Special Educational Needs and Disability (Northern Ireland) Act 2016 was the first of the three building blocks to be put in place. The other elements are the new Regulations and a new Code of Practice. A draft of the new Regulations was consulted upon in 2016 and since then significant work has been progressed to update and improve the Regulations. Due to the number of changes made to the Regulations since 2016, a further consultation on the Regulations and also on the new Code of Practice is planned for early 2020. A staged implementation of the new Framework is planned from September 2020.
Last updated 18/02/2020