The Code of Practice is a singularly important document for schools and should undoubtedly help them to make better provision for pupils with special educational needs. Despite being clearly written, its content is complex and quasi-juridical (it comprises legislative statements, detailed glosses on these and discussion which has no legislative impact).
The Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator's Handbook aims to give comprehensive guidance on the Code and how to implement it effectively. It ranges beyond the Code, discussing Office for Standards in Education inspections for instance, but - quite properly - sees the role of the special educational needs co-ordinator in terms of the requirements of the Code of Practice.
The Handbook begins with a brief introduction to meeting special educational needs in mainstream schools. It then summarises the principles and main requirements of the Code of Practice and discusses school policies for special educational needs, before turning to a detailed consideration for the five-stage model of assessment and provision. Successive chapters look, for each stage, at roles and responsibilities, the sort of information required and how it can be collected, when and how to involve outside specialists, how to translate assessment information into an educational programme, and conducting reviews. For the later stages of statutory assessment, the criteria, procedures and time scales are set out.
Further chapters discuss effective strategies for involving parents, skills needed for working with parents and specialists, Ofsted inspection and special educational needs, and future challenges. There is extensive appendix material - proformas for use at the different stages of the procedures, checklists and references for further reading.
This handbook will be of immense value not only to special needs co-ordinators but also to headteachers and governors. Experienced and trained co-ordinators will discover little here they do not already know, though even they may find it stimulates useful reflection on their current practice.
However, the large number of special needs co-ordinators who have been inadequately trained for the role are likely to find it a lifeline. Governors, many of whom are said to be anxious about their responsibilities in this area, will benefit greatly from having it to hand.
It offers clear guidelines through the assessment procedures and supplements them with helpful proformas and illustrative material. It provides excellent advice on working with parents and specialists. It gives a sound basis for staff development, whether done by a group within a school or more widely. All in all, it should enhance the educational provision offered to pupils with special needs by helping schools to implement the Code of Practice effectively.
Seamus Hegarty is director of the National Foundation for Educational Research