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The 'hidden policy' in special needs

As a member of the Special Educational Needs Training Consortium and of the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, I feel it is important to have a broad understanding of the issues relating to different areas of special educational needs, and so I have recently visited a school for children with severe learning difficulties.

Two main issues surfaced, related both to Government and local authority policy. They were training for special needs teachers, and the numbers of statemented children.

At a recent meeting I had with Sir Ron Dearing he pointed out that national curriculum assessment was to be based on small steps to measure levels of achievement for children with severe learning difficulties. This is how it should be. However, I now learn that, because of closure of courses, there is nowhere in this country which is offering training for these special needs teachers. This means that in the foreseeable future there will be no trained staff to deal with these children.

So, on the one hand, the Government says these children should be provided for, but on the other, since there is no longer national training for these teachers, schools, such as the SLD school I visited, will have to close.

Currently, this school is under-subscribed. We know there are many more children who would benefit, so why is there this shortfall? What is preventing the take-up of places? Teachers have had to leave this school because fewer children are on the roll. But where are these children? I fear it could be the result of a "hidden" statementing policy which is swayed more by money in the coffers than need in the community.

The 1993 Education Act and Code of Practice requires that the needs of all children should be catered for. Is there a danger that, in ensuring this requirement is met, the criteria governing what constitutes special needs will be open to ever-widening interpretation? I shall wait with interest for the statistics next September on the numbers of children statemented in 199495 compared with 199394.

LINDSAY PEER Education director National Organisation for Specific Learning Difficulties 98 London Road Reading, Berkshire.

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