Q My authority has just circulated a letter saying it wants to reduce the number of statemented children in mainstream schools. It says it will not consider any pupil for assessment where learning or behaviour difficulties are the main problem. I have pupils who need more help than school resources allow. What can we can do?
Getting the balance right between school and LEA responsibilities is always hard. The way forward should be the result of legal consultation. The national picture is one of a sustained increase in the numbers and costs of statements. More statements are being issued at younger ages and staying in place for longer periods. This can undermine the argument for early intervention. There is some evidence that schools hold on to resources when pupils make progress. Some schools have used money intended for individual pupils to reduce class sizes. This is not sustainable in the long term. Remember the costs of all the officers, psychologists, doctors, teachers, therapists and so on who have to be paid to assess children's needs, and of the lawyers and tribunal staff when parents challenge the outcomes.
The school may continue to refer more children for statements. If you feel your resources are not adequate to meet identified needs, you should make a detailed and objective case to your local authority. While it can agree an overall policy, it cannot take any blanket decisions without facing legal challenge.
Passing the burden
Q Our school has been asked to take a Year 5 pupil excluded from another school. We have a high percentage of children with special needs and pupils with difficult behaviour, although we have never excluded a child permanently. Do we have to admit this child?
The short answer is Yes - when you have a space and the child meets the admissions criteria. Remember, it is often possible to get some additional support for excluded pupils in the early stages of a new placement.
The Government is concerned about the sharp rise in exclusions and the Department for Education has recently issued draft guidance (Social inclusion and Pupil Support, Jan 99). These children often have marked difficulties: they are in great distress and turmoil and make life hard for their classmates as well as being abusive to teachers and support staff. The children should have the right to have their distress correctly assessed and to be offered appropriate programmes to try to help them improve. On their side, staff should have the right to expect appropriate training, advice, support and protection.
I can understand that it may seem unfair for a school that tries to consume its own fire to be made to take children excluded from other schools. However, the way forward has to be increasing the level of skill in many more schools so they actively promote good behaviour and respond properly to difficult behaviour. Having said that, schools in your position would benefit from any system that "shared out'' excluded children, which is something the Government seems to be considering.
Is psychology for us?
Q How do you get to be an educational psychologist? Some of my colleagues and I think we would like the job?
All educational psychologists must have qualified and worked as teachers. The change can involve a longer working year and less money! You must have an honours degree in psychology (many teachers take this after qualifying as a teacher) and then go on one of 10 specialist post-graduate courses which take a minimum of 2 years - the average is 5 years plus. Competition is tough. Funding is now available via the DFEE which supports about 10 per cent of the places on approved courses.
Literacy hour inequalities
Q We have been implementing the literacy hour in our primary school and are getting ready for the numeracy hour. Some staff say that children with special needs should be withdrawn in a small group to have their session separately. Other staff say this is not fair.
Your debate sounds like a healthy one. The literacy hour is for schools to implement according to their particular needs. The balance of advice is that all children should be included, particularly in the initial and plenary sessions. Some children may need to learn to function in a group, and the focus and pace of the hour can be helpful to them.
Where help is available, it may be better to use it in class to observe children's responses, give them quiet encouragement and help them join in group work rather than to withdraw them. This is often more effective than asking support staff to take the most challenging children away from peer group influences that can promote better learning.
Advice on SEN and English as an alternative language is now available as Section 4 of the National Literacy Strategy guidance folder.
John Keever is senior development officer for special needs in Enfield, north London. Send your questions to Dear John at The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1 9XY