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Bullies can't be stopped

Baroness Warnock tells Assembly why she's done U-turn on inclusive education for SEN children. Nicola Porter reports

Teachers will never stop disabled children being made to feel like freaks by classroom bullies, according to the architect of Britain's special educational needs system.

Straight-talking Baroness Warnock, 81, also renewed her calls for an end to inclusive education and to English hostility towards special schools, on a visit to Wales last week.

She said a passion for inclusion in England was having a disastrous effect on SEN children, who feel alienated in large mainstream schools and excluded from school life and the community.

Baroness Warnock was invited to Wales by the Assembly's education committee, to contribute to its review of special needs. It is looking at statementing, the process of identifying children's special educational needs and spelling out their provision in a legally-binding document.

Assembly members recently went on a fact-finding mission to Scotland to learn more about plans there to cut down on statements by ring-fencing more funding.

As Helen Warnock, she chaired the 1974-78 committee of inquiry into special education which championed inclusion - the idea that children with special needs should be educated in their local mainstream school.

The life peer caused a storm recently after changing her mind, and calling for a "radical revolution" to reverse the damage caused by educating some pupils in mainstream schools. She now believes children flourish better in smaller, less-hostile environments after seeing the effects of the policies she helped create.

Baroness Warnock said teachers and pupils in mainstream schools could not be expected to understand the mind-set of a child with Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism affecting social skills.

She also believes that children who have been in care should have some kind of segregated education to help them deal with emotional problems.

She said: "No teacher can be vigilant enough to stop every child being nasty to a child with a disability. The passion for inclusion in England is having disastrous effects, and disability rights legislation has made that worse."

Spending on SEN in Wales is set to rise 7 per cent this year, with more than pound;260 million allocated by local education authorities - up nearly Pounds 20m on last year. But spending varies widely, and education and lifelong learning committee chairman Peter Black has said it is "out of control in many areas", because of the rising costs of out-of-county placements.

Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister, told Lady Warnock that special schools in Wales were highly rated and well-supported.

But she asked how Wales could tackle the "postcode lottery" of LEA spending, and said parents' scramble for statements had caused conflict in the system.

Baroness Warnock said Wales had a better base on which to build changes than England, because it had not embarked on a campaign of special school closures.

The Assembly government has been consulting on new guidance, which says most children and young people will attend their local mainstream school, but that special schools "continue to play an important and continuing role for those requiring very specialist and specific support".

Consultations close today.

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