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Action on special needs

Brian Wilson has taken a strong interest in special needs. Neil Munro outlines his plans.

THE EDUCATION Minister launched a three month consultation period on special educational needs this week, describing it as the most fundamental in decades.

Brian Wilson has taken a strong personal interest in this field. He said the Government based its approach on the principle that "all children have aspirations and are entitled to expect that our schools will help them to attain their full potential."

The Minister also announced a committee to report to him early next year on pupils with "severe low incidence disabilities". The group will be chaired by Professor Sheila Riddell, professor of social policy at Glasgow University. Part of its remit will be to ensure that gaps in provision across local authority boundaries are plugged.

In the summer the Scottish Office will also issue a revised version of its parents' guide to special educational needs and draw up a manual of good practice for professionals working in the field.

The discussion paper was welcomed by Children in Scotland, who will be responsible for preparing the parents' guide. Bronwen Cohen, the director, said she welcomed the principles in the paper, including the involvement of parents and an inclusive approach to children. She hoped these principles would be extended to other initiatives, such as the Government's forthcoming childcare strategy.

The Scottish Office proposes a "national policy framework." The principles include taking special educational needs into account routinely in all educational developments, assessing every child at the "earliest practicable date", and tackling special needs at the earliest possible stage.

The Government has found additional cash to make a reality of these principles. There is pound;900,000 to help education authorities meet special needs among pre-school children. The pound;1 million for training pre-school staff is intended to include special needs. And in-service training for special needs already receives pound;1.5m each year.

Specific staff development funding of pound;1m is also being allocated to special needs training for staff in the early primary years..

The Education Minister's moves follow his recent decision to set up the Beattie committee to report within six months on the post-school education and training of special needs youngsters. Mr Wilson believes that too many find themselves at a dead-end in a twilight zone between education and social work.

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