Establishing Specialist Provisions in Mainstream Schools

Information for Mainstream Schools who are interested in establishing Specialist Provisions.

When considering specialist provision, the EA will seek to ensure schools satisfy the six criteria of the Schools for the Future: A Policy for Sustainable Schools, allowing for individual circumstances where appropriate; including new schools progressing towards sustainability. 

The EA’s vision for Specialist Provision in Mainstream Schools is set out in the Framework for Specialist Provision in Mainstream Schools. In the Framework the EA has set out criteria and indicators which are used to identify the gaps in our existing specialist provision in mainstream schools and to identify mainstream schools in which to establish additional suitable provision for future needs of children and young people with special educational needs. The criteria are: 

  • Quality Educational Experience;
  • Strong Leadership and Management by Board of Governors and Principal;
  • Accessibility and Accommodation;
  • Clear Commitment to Inclusion;
  • Strong links with the Community;
  • Stable enrolment trends.

There are 7 different types of Specialist Provision Classes. The table below sets out the type of Specialist Provision where additional capacity is urgently required. 

  • SPL: Specialist Provision (Learning)
  • SPEYF: Specialist Provision (Early Years and Foundation)
  • SPSC: Specialist Provision (Social Communication / Autism)
 Specialist Provision (Learning) Class (SPL)Specialist Provision (Early Years and Foundation) Class (SPEYF)Specialist Provision (Social Communication / Autism) Class (SPSC)
Pupil Numbers
  • 12 pupils (Primary)
  • 14 pupils (Post Primary)
  • 8 pupils per class (Nursery and Primary)
  • 8 pupils per class (Primary and Post Primary) 
  • 1 Teacher and 1 Classroom Assistant (JE2)
  • 1 Teacher and 2 Classroom Assistants (JE3)
  • 1 Teacher and 1 Classroom Assistant (JE2) for classes with between 1 and 4 pupils
  • 1 Teacher and 2 Classroom Assistants (JE2) for classes over 5 pupils
  • An allocation of up to two additional SEN points is available for teaching staff.
  • Specialist Provision Classroom Assistants are paid as follows:
    • JE2- Classroom Assistant (Special Educational Needs) NJC pts 5 - 6 
    • JE3- Classroom Assistant (Additional Special Educational Needs) NJC Pts 7 – 17.
    • Classroom Assistant hours can be allocated to one or more members of staff
Support provided from EA Support Services
  • Support with Individual self-evaluation and Action Plans.
  • Provide Professional learning development. 
  • Facilitate cluster groups. 
  • Signpost to other services.   
  • Dedicated Link Officer with access to support from specialised teachers and Intervention Officers. 
  • Pre and post set up support. 
  • Interface links with SEN Support Services, Special School practitioners, Allied Health professionals and other multi-disciplinary agencies.
Pupils who will be placed in each type of ProvisionThe Provision is for statemented pupils only with the following recommendation on their Statement: ‘Pupil needs can be met within Specialist Provision in a Mainstream School’Specialist Provision (Early Years and Foundation) Classes are for pupils with a profile of Severe Learning Difficulties.

Social Communication placements are primarily for pupils with a diagnosis of ASD and an identified SEN of social communication needs and have the following recommendation on their statement: ‘In a specialist setting where he/she will be taught by teachers experienced in teaching pupils with a profile of needs outlined in Part 2 of the Statement with opportunities for [the pupil] to integrate into mainstream classes as appropriate’.

Pupils with social communication needs undergoing assessment for ASD may be considered.

Set up allowanceEach newly set-up class receives a lump sum of £3,000 to purchase resources, paid into the school’s LMS account in the Autumn term of the year the new class becomes operational.
EquipmentThe EA will provide an initial furniture and equipment budget associated with any set up works required.
  • Teaching and non-teaching staff costs are paid from the EA central budget however, recruitment and management of staff is a school function. 
  • LMS budget allocations shown below are based on classes with the pupil numbers indicated above and include an annual allocation of £3,000 per class.

In accordance with the Common Funding Scheme for the Local Management of Schools, the budget allocations for Specialist Provisions use a reduced Age Weighted Pupil Unit (AWPU) weighting to reflect the fact that the Education Authority meets the full staffing costs.

Approximate LMS allocations:

  • £25K (Nursery/Primary)
  • £46K (Post Primary)

Approximate LMS allocations:

  • £18K (Nursery/Primary)

Approximate LMS allocations: 

  • £18K (Nursery/Primary)
  • £28K (Post Primary)

Pupil Pathways

Generally, classes operate across a Key Stage to create a pathway of provision as follows:

Key StageF/KS1KS2KS3KS4
Max No of Pupils SPL12121414
Max No of Pupils SPSC8888
Max No of Pupils SPEYF8   

Class size will retain a degree of flexibility based on the overall profile of the children placed.

General Information on Specialist Provisions in Mainstream School

  •  Pupils who are placed in the specialist provision settings are registered pupils of the mainstream school.
  • One of the key benefits of Specialist Provisions is the ability to facilitate mainstream integration of pupils who secure a place in the Specialist Provision Class for periods of time in line with their development and ability. 
  • The school can use the expertise that develops within the Specialist Provision setting to support mainstream pupils through peer support for teachers or reverse integration of mainstream pupils into the Specialist provision setting for short periods of time for targeted support.
  • Statutory Assessment and Review Service (SARS) will offer placements in consultation with the school and parents.
  • The number of pupils placed will depend on the overall profile and complexity of SEN within the class. Schools should consider the consultations for placement from SARS very carefully with a view to including additional children where physical capacity allows and SEN can be met.
  • Ideally pupils will be placed evenly across each year group within the key stages.
  • Integration of specialist provision pupils into mainstream may create opportunities for mainstream pupils to reverse integrate.
  • There are whole school benefits regarding sharing practice/training.


  • The provision should be within the footprint of the main school building with guarantee that space will continue to be available for a number of years. 
  • New provisions will be supported to ensure the classroom and support spaces are suitable for the SEN needs of the pupils who will use it.  The Facilities Management team will progress this work in the majority of cases.
  • The suitability of accommodation will be determined through a multi-disciplinary site visit when such issues as availability of classrooms, direct access to outdoor space from ground level accommodation will be considered, as well as proximity of toilet facilities etc.
  • In the longer term, minor works, if required, may be requested to expand or improve accommodation but there is likely to be a waiting list before a project can be delivered. 

Training and Support

The Specialist Setting Support Team (SSST) is a regional multi-service team providing integrated support for specialist provisions in mainstream nursery, primary and post primary schools. The team supports staff and parents in specialist provisions in mainstream schools to improve outcomes for children and young people (CYP). 

Support is provided both prior to set up and post set up and includes universal and targeted support for both schools, staff, parents and specialist support for CYP.  SSST offer a wide range of training, advice, consultation, strategies, whole class/small group support and demonstration sessions that assist settings to develop children’s fundamental skills.

Specialist short term individual support and/or consultation may also be offered for those CYP with persistent needs who have not responded positively to other strategies. 

Universal Support

  • Each school/setting is allocated an Advisory Teacher as a point of contact with the team for support, signposting and advice.
  • Each school/setting will continue to have access to a named School Improvement Professional from the School Development Service to support the school leader and strategic planning.
  • Programmes have been intentionally designed to build the capacity of settings to meet the needs of CYP and parents/carers, with increasing confidence and skill. This is done through training, modelling, and capacity building.

Targeted Support

  • Targeted support programmes are aimed at staff, parents/carers and/or CYP in specific targeted groups or at specific times in a child’s developmental journey. This could include, for example, transition programmes, parent/carer and setting cluster groups, school-based training, teacher advice and guidance or group intervention.

Specialist Support

  • Short term specialist support for CYP up to 6 weeks, staff and parents builds on the foundations laid in schools through both teacher professional learning and targeted support programmes. Intensive support will focus on the needs of an individual CYP and will have clearly agreed outcomes. A programme of intensive support will focus on the identified and assessed needs of an individual pupil.
  • Contact email [email protected]

Area Planning Approvals

Any new provisions are being set up initially on a temporary basis while the Area Planning Team progress a consultation process, which is required before seeking formal approval.

In seeking approval, the EA will apply the following process where formerly a full Development Proposal would have been required:

  • Prepare an abridged Case for Change document applying criteria to meet the Framework for Specialist Provision in Mainstream Schools and criteria specifically applicable to Specialist Provisions.
  • Consult with BoG, school staff, parents and pupils. In addition, the consultation will be available on the Annual Plan of Arrangements and the EA Public consultation web pages for members of the public who may respond to the consultation. Going forward all SPiMS and Special School changes will also be part of the APA consultation and published on the APA page when it is fully implemented.
  • Following the 8 weeks consultation, a report will be tabled at the EA Strategic Planning and Policy Committee for consideration and approval to establish, change or close SPiMS classes. EA will provide a Statement of Assurance to DE to confirm that the consultation has taken place until the APA is fully implemented.
  • A new Emergency Planning Framework is currently being considered by EA and DE, which aims to put in place temporary arrangements for the 2023/24 and 2024/25 academic years. This will allow Principals (special and mainstream), the EA, DE, ETI and other stakeholders to assess and test/pilot the most suitable models of delivery of special education for pupils with special educational needs.

Register Interest

To register your interest in Specialist Provisions please email: [email protected]


Training Available Programme

To find out about the current training available from the SEN Specialist Settings Support Team click on the below link. 

Training Programme 

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