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Inclusion that is right for the children's needs

Special educational needs provision in Inverclyde was praised by the inspectors after their first visit in 2001. Schools were clear about the authority's aim for inclusion, they said, and appreciated the resources provided, which included extra staff and support bases for pupils with a range of learning difficulties or special needs.

"Staff and parents felt that officers were good at identifying and spreading good practice, and officers and elected members went out of their way to attend awards ceremonies and to join with schools in celebrating success."

Where the inspectors felt more work was needed was in policy rather than practice.

"We needed to update our policy. There had been major advances in special needs education, as well as a raft of new legislation and we needed a new policy to reflect that progress," says Albert Henderson, the head of service for special educational needs.

"We put a major effort into consultation and developing a new additional support needs policy, and when the inspectors returned they commented very favourably.

"We also enhanced our provision. For example, children in our three special schools now have the same school hours as in the mainstream."

The inspectors also commended the authority's inclusive approach for pre-school children, and the funding of additional support for pupils with speech and language difficulties and autism.

"One of the biggest increases has been kids with autistic spectrum and Asperger's syndrome. Our numbers have quadrupled in the past few years," says Mr Henderson. "We have 62 pupils on that spectrum, with 42 taught in the mainstream.

"The majority of our record of needs kids are also in the mainstream."

A key point, says Mr Henderson, is that inclusion underpins the new policy, but it is inclusion appropriate to the needs of the child. A range of provision is needed, including special schools where additional facilities and staff are available for children with profound and complex difficulties.

Schools in Inverclyde have set up rolling programmes of staff development to ensure teachers' skills and awareness about children with additional needs continue to improve, says special needs manager Maureen Irving.

Uptake is monitored.

"Inclusion is about how you think and how you teach," says Ms Irving. "It is not a target. It's a continuing process."

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