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Manchester pledges Pounds 1 million

Manchester City Council this week told Stephen Byers, the school standards minister, how it will tackle two problems highlighted in a damning OFSTED report.

The council is still smarting from what it believes was an unfair report summary and headline-grabbing press release, but it acknowledges that exclusions - 142 children were lost to the system - and the slow statementing of children with special educational needs are problems.

Richard Leese, leader of the council, said its interim action plan met the minister's deadline and "demonstrates that in areas where we have already identified weaknesses we are dealing with the problem".

He conceded that while many of the initiatives would have been introduced, the OFSTED report ensured that "things are happening faster than they would have otherwise done".

The action plan will ensure that by 1999-2000, 95 per cent of statements for pupils with special educational needs are completed within the prescribed time. Specialist staff will be recruited, caseload management is to be computerised and administration monitored regularly.

The council says much of this was under way and 87 per cent of special needs cases are already completed on time. An exclusions team will be set up, and staff will determine the most appropriate help as soon as a child loses his or her school place. An innovation is a dowry system of financial incentives for schools which accept an excluded pupil.

The action plan will cost more than Pounds 1 million and the council will ask the Government for Pounds 250,000 towards this. But Mr Leese made clear the initiatives would be implemented irrespective of the Government's decision. He said: "We are confident our action plan will demonstrate to ministers that we are serious and determined in our resolve to remedy these weaknesses and that we are doing our utmost to ensure this happens."

Such problems faced many local authorities, he added. "Some of our ideas are ground-breaking in terms of how these problems can be dealt with nationally. We therefore look forward to discussing them with Government ministers."

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