The prevalence of special educational needs in Northern Ireland: A comparative analysis

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Administrative data sets can play a key role in informing and
influencing education provision. To date, longitudinal analysis of
special educational needs (SEN) in Northern Ireland (NI) has not
been a visible feature of policy discourse, even though the number
of these pupils has increased at a rate that is proportionally higher
than the general school population. To better understand the prevalence of SEN, this paper utilises secondary educational data
collected between 2010/11 and 2021/22 to interrogate trends in
NI as well as relative to other jurisdictions. Findings identify the
intricacy of comparative analysis, not least due to differing
approaches to data collection and reporting, as well as approaches
to assessment and identification of SEN. More specifically, within
the NI context, the findings identify fundamental trends across
school types. The association between these trends and significant
policy changes in how SEN is identified, recorded and reported is
critically considered. The utility of big data is discussed, including
implications for generating robust evidence, contributing to forward-planning on the future monitoring of, and provision for, SEN,
and reinforcing the need for accessible new data to improve the
visibility of SEN in the region.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Special Needs Education
Issue number4
Early online date21 Oct 2022
Publication statusPublished online - 21 Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported by the ESRC Secondary Data Analysis Initiative (Project No.: ES/S00601X/1).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 The Author(s). Published by Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group.


  • Administrative data
  • secondary analysis
  • special educational needs
  • prevalence


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