HC Deb 17 September 2003 vol 410 cc813-4W
Mr. Hume

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland what guidance he gives on the extent to which pre-school children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) can benefit from appropriate pre-school education; whether the current main-stream nursery education classes are resourced to deal with children with ASD; and if he will make a statement about plans to provide specialist pre-school education for children with ASD. [118759]

Jane Kennedy

The Department of Education's Code of Practice on the Identification and Assessment of Special Educational Needs (SEN) gives clear guidance to Education and Library Boards (ELBs) and schools (including mainstream nursery schools) on meeting the needs of children with special educational needs, including Autistic Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

The ELBs are resourced to support children with ASD in mainstream nursery schools in a variety of ways. Provision may include classroom assistance, or support from ASD Advisory Officers or peripatetic teachers. The boards also provide training in aspects of Special Educational Needs, including ASD.

The Northern Task Group Report on Autism endorsed early intervention for children with ASD. The Department of Education is working closely with the ELBs and the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety to prioritise the recommendations of the report, with a view to improving collaborative working and available provision.

Through existing Special Needs legislation ELBs have a qualified duty to secure education for children with SEN in a mainstream placement. The proposed Special Educational Needs and Disability legislation will strengthen the presumption to inclusion. However, the level and type of provision is assessed by the boards on an individual basis and ELBs continue to make specialist provision for children with ASD based on identified needs. The Department of Education and the ELBs are taking work forward to consider how best to enhance SEN provision in the pre-school sector.