There are three elements to the new framework:

  1. Primary Legislation - Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (the 2016 Act)
  2. Secondary Legislation - New SEN Regulations
  3. Guidance - a new statutory Code of Practice

1. Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (Northern Ireland) 2016 (the 2016 Act)

The 2016 Act is the first building block in the new SEN Framework, and it received Royal Assent in March 2016.  The Act places new duties on Boards of Governors, the Education Authority (EA) and health and social services authorities, and provides new rights for parents and children over compulsory school age.

The EA will be required to publish an annual plan of its arrangements for special educational provision.  They will also have to seek and have regard to the views of the child when making decisions on special educational provision.  The EA have already put in place independent dispute avoidance arrangements.  The EA will also have to put in place independent mediation arrangements.

Boards of Governors will be required to ensure a Learning Support Co-ordinator is appointed within each grant-aided school to co-ordinate provision for children with SEN.  The school will be required to complete and review a personal learning plan for each pupil with SEN and ensure that this plan is transferred when a child moves from one grant aided school to another (consent is required.)

The Act also provides for increased co-operation between the EA and health and social services authorities to provide services they have identified to be of benefit in addressing a child's SEN.

Not all of The 2016 Act has commenced as many of the Sections require supporting Regulations to be in place.  The Department is currently consulting on new Regulations - see below.

The following Sections have commenced:

Sections 15, 16, 18 and 19 commenced at the same time the 2016 Act came into operation (24 March 2016).

Section 6 came into operation on 30 September 2016 – Commencement Order No 1

Section 1 came into operation on 18 December 2020 – Commencement Order No 2

2. New draft SEN Regulations

The new Regulations, when they are made by the NI Assembly, will provide a strengthened legislative base for delivering a more responsive and effective SEN Framework.

The Department previously consulted on a set of new draft Regulations back in 2016 but due to the time delay, the absence of the Assembly, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the significant improvements made to the new draft SEN Regulations since the 2016 consultation, the Department is taking the unusual step of consulting again on the Regulations.

3. New draft SEN Code of Practice

The new Code of Practice translates the new draft SEN law into clear and practical guidance for those involved in identifying and assessing children who have, or may have, SEN and for those who provide special educational provision for children with SEN.  It will support them in ensuring the right SEN provision is given to help each child fulfil their potential.

Public Consultation on the new draft Regulations and the new draft Code of Practice

The Department held public consultations on the new draft Special Educational Needs (SEN) Regulations and draft SEN Code of Practice from 30 September 2020 until 2 March 2021.

The new draft SEN Regulations, the associated consultation documents and a summary report of responses are available to read here.

The new draft SEN Code of Practice, the associated consultations documents and a summary report of responses are available to read here.


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