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Inquiry to go ahead

MPs are to investigate special needs provision in a three-month inquiry starting this month.

The all-party Commons education select committee will examine standards of provision offered in mainstream and special schools, paying particular attention to the system of statementing children.

It will also look at the role of parents in deciding their children's education, how special needs are defined and the provision for different types of special educational needs.

The decision to hold the inquiry follows calls by Baroness Warnock in June for a drastic reform of special needs education. Lady Warnock inspired current practice in the field with her inquiry more than 20 years ago, which led to the 1981 Education Act, transforming the teaching of youngsters once dubbed maladjusted and subnormal. However, in a controversial about-turn she called for the return of special schools and a review of the statementing process, which she said caused "bad blood"

between parents, schools and local authorities.

Barry Sheerman, select committee chairman, said the decision to review provision came after Lady Warnock "put the cat among the pigeons": "The future of special educational needs and how provision is delivered is an important and continuing debate, and Lady Warnock gave us the trigger to set up the inquiry. We cannot ignore what she has said. We've seen a great deal of change in the past two decades. We need to look at whether we are getting it right because there is too much at stake if we are not."

The inquiry will begin with a seminar in London on October 17 involving leading practitioners and experts, from whom will be chosen a group of advisers to the committee as it makes its deliberations. Formal evidence will be collected in hearings from now to the end of the year. Lady Warnock is expected to attend on October 31.

Mr Sheerman, Labour MP for Huddersfield, said he had had experience of the frustrations and anger felt by many parents over existing policies through his regular meetings with constituents: "Like many MPs, I've had parents at my weekly surgeries feeling desperate and frustrated because they are not getting the education they want for their child.

"I had a mother needing a place in a special school for her son because she believed that was where his needs would be best met, but the education authority was insisting he go to a mainstream secondary. On the same day, another parent told me she would do anything to keep her child out of a special school because his needs were not severe and she did not want him 'branded' by having attended a special school."

The select committee plans to publish its findings early in the new year.

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