Bryan Kirkaldy, education manager in Fife and former chair of the Association of Principal Educational Psychologists, told MSPs that the Executive's plan to legislate in favour of a "presumption" that SEN pupils should be educated in mainstream classes must be accompanied by thoroughgoing reform of the way such pupils are assessed.
Mr Kirkaldy also accused HMI of making matters worse. The 1980 Education Act, on which current practice is based, was "anti-inclusive" because it did not treat SEN pupils in the same way as others. There was no universal assessment framework, and the present approach was based on a "child-deficit model" which looked only at weaknesses not strengths.
"The result is an extremely and unnecessarily adversarial relationship between local authorities and parents and therefore a very cumbersome procedure which can often take from six months to a year before an outcome for each child can be arrived at," Mr Kirkaldy said.
Many authorities that had outgrown the legislation ran into conflict with inpectors who marked down schools that do not open what the Inspectorate regards as a sufficient number of records of needs for pupils with significant learning impairments. The emphasis should be on successful outcomes or interventions for children, not on a numerical count.
Different assessment systems should be abandoned, Mr Kirkaldy told MSPs. There were individualised educational programmes (IEPs) for special needs children, personal learning plans in community schools and individual target-setting for others.
"We need a universal system of assessment which builds out from the needs of all pupils to gradations of finer detail for those with particular needs," Mr Kirkaldy said. "It has to be a continuous assessment not the discontinuous system we have at the moment which treats a fragment of the population differently."
But Mr Kirkaldy warned that any changes had to be "systemic", so that everyone from policy-maker to class teacher was pursuing the same objectives. He cited the example of working with parents who had founded Dyslexia Fife to ensure that schools identified problems early and took action, without waiting for the education authority to intervene.