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Critics fear get-out clauses

Although a host of new duties will be imposed on authorities if the proposed legislation is passed, concern has been expressed by the Association of Directors of Education that other agencies such as health boards will not be legally obliged to comply.

But Mike Gibson, head of additional support needs in the Executive's education department, points to "the very far-reaching" section 17 of the draft Bill. For the first time, this gives authorities the right to request assistance from other agencies. With this "extra muscle", outside bodies can only refuse to comply if they believe it is prejudicial to their work.

This is one example of an "opt-out" provision in the Bill which concerns some critics. Capability Scotland and Children in Scotland are pressing for clearer drafting so authorities are not allowed to avoid meeting additional support needs where it is "not practicable at reasonable cost".

Julie Allan, professor of education at Stirling University and adviser to the parliamentary education committee's inquiry into special education, also suggests the definitions of additional support needs and co-ordinated support plans should be tightened.

Changes along these lines may well occur during the Bill's passage, but Dr Gibson is satisfied that powerful new rights will be established, complementing other legislation. "We have never had so much legislation in place for disabled youngsters and those with learning diffi-culties," he said.

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