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The case for independents

By Rowie Shaw, chief executive of the National Association of Independent and Non-Maintained Special Schools

Last month, you reported on the cost of placing children with complex needs in non-maintained and independent special schools. We sympathise with local authorities seeking appropriate placements for very vulnerable children while contending with limited budgets.

Placements of these children in our schools are indeed expensive, as they have the greatest need for specialist therapy and intensive care. However, 144 Ofsted and Estyn reports on our sector between 1998 and early 2004 all reported good, very good or excellent value for money.

Value-added figures show that non-maintained special schools are among the best performing in the country.

We have developed a national contract with our partners in the Department for Education and Skills, the Local Government Association and the Association of Directors of Social Services to demonstrate the commitment of special schools in the voluntary and independent sectors to quality, value and to supporting the maximum development of each child.

It is a pity that consideration of the sector concentrates on cost or location, when it is more logical to consider how these schools can offer expertise to support inclusion partnerships locally. Every one of the 110 special schools that is a member of our organisation stands in a local authority and should be seen as a local resource.

This is a time of positive change. In an inclusive system, partnership should extend beyond commissioning residential placements. The special schools working group report encouraged local authorities to work with highly specialist schools in our sector to support the mainstream and we are developing new services.

There are already many positive and imaginative partnerships. Kent is working with Dorton House School and with Royal School for the Deaf in Margate to develop outreach for children with visual and hearing impairment. Mary Hare School is working with Berkshire and other local authorities to offer music therapy and other services for deaf children, including training for teachers. Sunfield School works with authorities in the West Midlands to offer services for children with autistic spectrum disorders and their families.

Vulnerable children and dedicated staff in these schools deserve to have their contribution recognised and valued, rather than criticised on the basis of necessary cost.

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