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Assembly passes legislation putting children at the heart of Special Education Needs provision

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New legislation putting the views of children at the centre of Special Educational Needs (SEN) provision has been passed by the Assembly.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability (SEND) Bill, when enacted, will ensure the views of the child are considered as part of the discussion about their needs; that every child with SEN has a personal learning plan; and that there is increased cooperation between education and health in identifying, assessing and providing services to children with SEN.

Commenting on the legislation Education Minister John O’Dowd said: “I am delighted that this Assembly has passed legislation that firmly places children at the centre of Special Educational Needs provision.

“Children with special educational needs are a very diverse group, with different needs and will have different views on the support they need to reach their potential at school and prepare them for adult life. Putting the views of the child at the centre means acknowledging that no two children are the same and one size will not fit all.

“This Bill will bring positive change to the lives of children with special educational needs, around 20% of pupils in our schools. It is the culmination of the Education Committee’s scrutiny and the voice of the Assembly and I want to thank members for their contributions.”

The Bill provides the legislative changes necessary to support a new SEN Framework that will benefit children and their parents in their interactions with the Education Authority and schools. In addition to the legislation, public consultation on new Regulations will also launch in February and will be followed by consultation on a new Code of Practice.

Minister O’Dowd continued: “In developing this Bill and the new SEN Framework the overarching principles are that every school should have an inclusive ethos; that early and timely intervention is key; and that schools and teachers will need training to ensure that they are able to meet the needs of children with SEN. I believe the focus should be on learning outcomes for children with SEN, to be agreed in consultation with the parent and the child. Transparency, accountability and reduced bureaucracy will ensure that everyone involved in the SEN world has confidence in the new SEN Framework.”

When enacted, the legislation makes it a duty of the Education Authority to have regard to the views of the child when making decisions about their special educational needs. It also gives new rights to children over compulsory school age, recognising their growing independence.

The Education Authority, Boards of Governors and health and social care authorities will also have additional duties including:

· The Education Authority must publish a plan of its arrangements for special educational provision. The Authority will also be required to seek and have regard to the views of the child when making decisions about their special educational needs.

· Boards of Governors must appoint a learning support coordinator with responsibility for coordinating provision for children with SEN. In addition, teachers must take all reasonable steps to actively identify and provide for the needs of the pupil with SEN.

· Each child with SEN must have a personal learning plan.

· A duty on health and social care bodies to provide services identified by them as likely to be of benefit in addressing the child’s special educational needs.

Concluding, Minister O’Dowd said: “The package of this Bill, new regulations and a code of practice will create a new SEN Framework which will ensure that every child with SEN has the support they need to reach their full potential at school.”

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