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Great leaps forward;Document of the week;Briefing

Lessons are satisfactory in nine out of 10 special schools and good in half.

Steve Hook on OFSTED findings

THE Office for Standards in

Education has turned its attention to special education and the results look promising. Its first review was published last week, hard on the heels of similar surveys on primary and secondary education.

Special Education 1994-98: A Review of Special Schools, Secure Units amp; Pupil Referral Units in England looks at 1,300 schools which cater for 42 per cent of the 242,300 children with special needs.

The sector has been battered by criticism from inspectors in recent years, with about 8 per cent of its schools receiving failing reports every year since 1993, more than double the rate among mainstream schools. Five pupil referral units and 47 special schools are currently under special measures.

However, the new OFSTED survey is packed with positive comments about progress in subjects including English, maths and science, where there have been impressive leaps forward from 1994's low base.

The teaching quality is now "satisfactory" in nine out of 10 schools and "good" in half and pupils are learning the skills which they will need when they leave school. Inspectors said teachers were responsible for transforming the pupils into enthusiastic students capable of posing informed questions.

Chief inspector Chris Woodhead said: "It is because teachers are planning more effectively, and teaching better, that their pupils are now making steady progress and standards are rising."

In English, maths and science pupils' progress was judged to be satisfactory or better in nine out out of 10 schools although, in English, inspectors noted there was better progress in speaking and listening than in reading and writing.

However, problems remain. In some cases teachers' lack of subject knowledge prevents them from finding imaginative ways of engaging pupils' interest.

Performance was poor in information technology, the weakest subject, with little sign of improvement over the four-year cycle. Here, learning was often hind-ered by a lack of contact with classroom equipment.

Inspectors also visited around half of England's 320 pupil referral units. Attainment there was found to be below national expectations, with pupils' progress held back by histories of

non-attendance at school. Nevertheless, most pupils made satisfactory progress.

Many were gaining nationally-recognised qualifications, including GCSEs, which OFSTED described as "a considerable achievement."

Inspectors praised schools for successfully delivering the national curriculum in difficult circumstances.

"Special Education 1994-98" is available from The Publications Centre, PO Box 276, London SW8 5DT. 0870 600 5522.


Inspectors said:

* Special schools have made substantial progress in the past four years.

* Pupils' attitudes to their learning were satisfactory or good in the vast majority of special schools.

* lack of subject knowledge lowered the quality of teaching in almost half of all special schools.

* Eight out of 10 schools had satisfactory classrooms.

* Management was good in three-quarters of special schools.

* Behaviour was satisfactory or good in a great majority of special schools.

* Most pupils in special units made satisfactory progress.

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