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Better quality must equal more cash

There is a close parallel between the HMI report on pupils with language disorders (page five) and the inspectors' recent findings on special education generically. In both cases the extent of children's problems varies widely. Special education encompasses those who are profoundly handicapped and those for whom teaching in mainstream classes is a possibility.

Likewise, language and communication disorder is interpreted as affecting more than 10,000 pupils - 1 per cent of the total - ranging from those with mild speech handicap to the severely autistic, who are precisely enumerated as 475 children, although the report generally counsels against absolute indicators.

The success with which problems are tackled also makes for comparison between special education and language disorder. The same variety of practice occurs in relation to Records of Need. Parents, although far more involved than previously in decisions about their children's future, are still easily deterred by the formal apparatus of case conferences and professional input.

Early identification of a problem is essential, but so is the facility to maintain help through secondary school and into young adult life. Children with equally severe problems are placed in a variety of settings - reflecting the longstanding debate between mainstreaming and special provision. The conclusion has to be that since language disorder is an aspect of special need, it is hardly surprising for research to have thrown up similar messages.

Wherever educationists have to co-operate closely with other professionals - be it with social workers in dealing with family problems or speech therapists in handling communication difficulties - the likelihood is of less than perfect linkage. No one is to blame. Working together is as tricky for professionals as it is for children in a classroom, and the latter at least are being trained in group work in a way their elders were not.

But the HMIs identify a problem in relations between teachers and speech therapists. They suggest the formality of a service contract setting out what is expected of each partner. It is to be hoped that if such contracts are embarked upon, the discipline of compiling and acting upon one case would ensure that such bureaucracy becomes superfluous in others.

The recommendations addressed to schools, education authorities, teacher training institutes and the Government itself will be welcomed in principle. But the HMIs have the same problem as Labour policy-makers. They must not make commitments about expenditure. So the fact that better provision would involve spending money is ignored. Yet it cannot be by those who want to implement the HMIs' messages.

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