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Extra cash to spot special needs

THE importance of dealing with special needs at the earliest possible age has been used by ministers as an argument to lever extra cash from the Treasury.

They are looking at creating a network of special educational needs co-ordinators to liaise with playgroups and childminders and offer training and advice.

The developments come as the system gears up for the new "foundation" stage of the curriculum, covering three to five-year-olds to be introduced in September.

The new key stage is intended to be a foundation for the more formal curriculum at key stage 1, and sets out "learning goals" in six areas, including communication, literacy, maths plus creative and physical development.

The Government has a series of initiatives targeting early years, including Sure Start, excellence centres, and an inspection regime involving the Office for Standards in Education. Bt the lack of an over-arching early-years special needs strategy was the theme of a conference this week, organised by the National Children's Bureau.

Speaking at the conference, education minister Margaret Hodge told 350 delegates that the early identification of special needs was crucial and that people working with under-fives needed support.

"We have got 34,000 places delivering early-years education. Within these, we have people with different ranges of experience and qualifications. We do invest in training, but not enough.

"How are we going to provide a framework that ensures childminders - 70 per cent of whom don't have appropriate qualifications, although they may have experience - are supported and know what to look for when it comes to identification (of needs)?"

She said ministers were prioritising a bid to the Treasury for training funds.

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