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Bid to reduce statements

But charities claim special-needs pupils will miss out, reports Nicola Porter

Pupils whose special needs are educational and not health-related should no longer be given statements, according to the authors of a new report.

Too many children are being statemented because of built-in incentives and parental pressure, according to a special paper presented to the Assembly.

It calls for professionals, such as educational psychologists, to be freed from the burden of statementing to help teachers in the classroom working with children with conditions such as attention deficit disorder.

But angry special-needs charities said children would not receive essential services if statements were cut.

Statements are legally binding documents setting out the provision and services required for educating children with the most specialised and difficult needs.

In January 2004, 3.3 per cent of children in Wales had statements, with provision ranging from 1.55 per cent in Rhondda Cynon Taf to 4.94 per cent in Newport.

A report from the Association of Directors of Education in Wales (ADEW) says the Welsh should adopt the system used in Scotland, where binding contracts between local education authorities and parents are only given when absolutely necessary.

It also says the Assembly government should issue strict national guidelines to end the postcode lottery of statementing.

Dr Gareth Price, assistant director of special needs and inclusion at Bridgend county council, and co-author of the ADEW report, told members of the Assembly's education and life-long learning committee: "We would like to see zero statements, but certainly we should be moving towards awarding them only to pupils who have other needs apart from educational ones."

He and co-author Trevor Payne claim parents fight for statements because they believe their child will receive a better service and not have to study the national curriculum. LEAs with surplus school places also have an incentive to maintain statements because they count for three pupil places.

But reducing statements would encourage mainstream schools to motivate special-needs children and engage them in learning, they claimed.

Last week's education and lifelong learning committee also heard from inspection agency Estyn, which reviewed best practice on statementing last year.

Chief inspector Susan Lewis said more statements are issued in north and mid-Wales than in the south, and mostly to boys.

Sue Willan, an inspector based in Mold, north Wales, said: "We don't know if it's because boys are naturally more boisterous."

The Estyn review found LEAs which reduced statements did not save money, but were using resources more effectively to identify pupils with emotional and mental problems.

But Hugh Natale, area manager of the Special Needs Advisory Project Cymru, said: "We'd all like to see an end to statements, but the harsh reality is that many special-needs children will not get the services they need because they do not live in the right town and go to the right school."

Mr Natale claimed around 75 per cent of excluded pupils in Wales had special needs contributing to behavioural problems which had not been picked up by teachers and heads.

He added: "Services at mainstream school level need to improve dramatically before parents are confident their children do not need statements to get the help they are entitled to."

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