A profile of special educational needs and disability in Northern Ireland using educational and social data

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Abstract

This funded research sought to access and analyse available administrative data in Northern Ireland (NI) to explore and better understand special educational needs (SEN) among pupils and within NI schools. The origins of this administrative data project are grounded in the remit of the Administrative Data Research Centre Northern Ireland (ADRC-NI). As part of a wider UK network, the ADRC represents a partnership between universities, government departments and agencies, national statistics authorities, funders and the wider research community. Access to, and analysis of, administrative data, therefore, has potential to provide valuable insights of interest and relevance to policy makers, service providers and service users.

The aim of the project was two-fold: to interrogate the utility of existing education data sources as a means of gaining insights into the profile of pupils with SEN in NI and to describe the changing demography of pupils with SEN over an eight-year period; and to interrogate the utility of existing social data sources as a means of gaining insights into the relationship between SEN and disability relative to wider socio-economic influences. This was achieved from the Department of Education (DE) Research and Statistics Branch who provided publicly available and specifically requested data on the pupil population with SEN and from the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) who provided data on the Northern Ireland Longitudinal Study (NILS). The NILS covers 28% of the population, including children and young people, and draws on data from a range of sources. This combined data enabled generation of a baseline profile of the health and disability of the sub-population of children and young people relative to the wider socio-economic circumstances of their lives.

The contribution of administrative data to inform education policy and provision is supported by current evidence. At school level, the numbers of pupils with SEN in NI have increased in the past ten years at a rate that is proportionately higher than in the general school population, and the percentage of pupils with SEN has remained higher than in England. There have also been observable changes in the profile of pupils with SEN relative to their environmental circumstances.
The profile of children and young people with SEN in terms of their educational outcomes and the wider association of SEN status with a range of social, economic and health inequities position them as a particularly vulnerable group who are more likely to experience adversities across their life span and underlines the importance of contemporaneous available and accessible data. It is hoped that the findings of this project will promote the utility of data on special educational needs and disability in NI; inspire future use of administrative data in the region; encourage data custodians to facilitate improved opportunities in data access; and contribute towards the formulation of a larger study as opportunities for future individual level data linkage and analyses emerge.
Original languageEnglish
Commissioning bodyEconomic and Social Research Council (ESRC)
Number of pages168
Publication statusPublished - 24 Jun 2021

Keywords

  • special educational needs
  • disability
  • secondary data analysis
  • policy outcomes

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