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Fat cats in a jungle of special needs lore

Your editorial (TES, February 9), in common with Jean Gross's report on special educational needs (TES, February 2), ignores the legal framework within which local education authorities should work when they make their decisions about children with special needs. Unfortunately, many LEAs ignore it too - hence the pressure on the new special educational needs tribunal.

Part 3 of the 1993 Education Act, like the 1981 Act which it replaced, creates a series of entitlements for children with special needs. Briefly, for children who fall within the scope of the legislation, LEAs have a duty to identify their needs, meet those needs and regularly review the arrangements made for them. Formula funding of the kind suggested by Jean Gross and your editorial does not meet these legal obligations, as many LEAs have found to their cost at tribunals.

In the experience of the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice, many parents go to tribunals simply because their LEA has failed to fulfil its legal duty. If the tribunals are "aiding and abetting them", then it is because they are setting aside LEA decisions which are inconsistent with the law.

Intervention from the Department for Education and Employment would ensure that LEAs currently operating challengeable policies would be brought into line, so that all children would receive the services to which they are entitled.

However, judging by its response to recent complaints, we can only conclude that the DFEE has decided to take a "hands-off" approach, leaving it to individual parents to make an appeal to the tribunal. It is not surprising that it is the ablest and most articulate parents who use the tribunal system most effectively.

Ending entitlement would certainly reduce the power of these middle-class parents but it would not ensure that less powerful parents received a fair share of available resources. So rather than suggesting approaches which would take away the entitlements of the most vulnerable section of the school population, why don't you urge the DFEE to sort out those LEAs where legal inconsistencies, poor administration and unfair practice are the order of the day?If the DFEE has created the law of the jungle, it is not surprising that the fattest cats are prospering.



Independent Panel for Special Education Advice

84 Seymour Park Road



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