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Lamb backs parents in damning report

Radical changes are required in the way schools and local authorities deal with parents of children with special educational needs, a formal inquiry into the SEN system has concluded.

Brian Lamb, chair of the Special Educational Consortium, who led the inquiry, said he had met "some of the angriest parents in the country", who had been forced to battle for the support their children required.

He said there needed to be a major reform of the current system, with a stronger voice for parents, more focus on children's needs and more accountability.

One in five children has special educational needs: a term that encompasses learning difficulties, autism, communication needs and social, behavioural and emotional difficulties.

"We found many examples where disabled children and children with SEN were sidelined rather than challenged to be the best that they could possibly be," the report says.

It points to a lack of expertise in schools that had led to children with SEN being eight times more likely to be excluded - with evidence that some children were subject to "informal exclusions" when support staff were absent, staffing was stretched or to avoid the child being in school for a specific event. This had affected parents' reliability at work and some lost their job or gave up work because of it.

Schools Secretary Ed Balls accepted all the report's 51 recommendations other than two which fall under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Justice.

They include a national SEN helpline, which will be set up to provide advice for parents; pilots to look at how children's needs are assessed; and training materials for teachers, available through distance learning. The long-term aim is for all schools to have at least one teacher with advanced level SEN training in their school.

But while the system needed to be ruthlessly refocused on delivering for children, Mr Lamb added that it recommended nothing that was not already being done by the best teachers, schools and authorities. One of the most striking findings of the inquiry was the variation between authorities. It was not the framework at fault, he said, but the failure to comply with the spirit and letter of it.

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