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Consultants to solve special needs disputes

A private consultancy has been hired by the Department for Education and Skills to help resolve disputes where academies refuse to take on pupils with special needs.

The decision to employ Cambridge Education to advise academy principals has increased concerns among teachers' unions that the schools - and new autonomous schools proposed in the white paper - may not admit their fair share of children with statements of special need.

The DfES has already set up a mediation service, run by the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution, to help with disputes and hired the consultancy KPMG to advise civil servants.

Figures obtained by the Advisory Centre for Education indicate that pupils with special needs were twice as likely to be excluded in 20032004 if they attended the first 12 academies than if they were at other schools. But the DfES stressed that academies took on a higher proportion of students with special needs than the national average.

Martin Rogers, co-ordinator of The Education Network, a local authority research unit, said the appointment of Cambridge Education showed that there was "a different set of rules for academies from everyone else" when it came to special needs.

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