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Needed for 'task force': expert in special needs

The announcement that Tim Brighouse and Chris Woodhead are both to serve on David Blunkett's new "Task Force" to raise educational standards has made the headlines and raised a few eyebrows.

However, a much more significant job for Mr Blunkett ought to be the recruitment of someone with acknowledged expertise and national credibility in the field of special educational needs to the task force.

Both Mr Blunkett and his new adviser Professor Michael Barber would appear to have little to say about the complex issues of meeting the needs of pupils with special educational needs. The Education and Employment Secretary talks a great deal about basics, fundamentals, structure and more rigid teaching methods - precisely the things that have been found wanting in the education of many pupils with special needs over a number of years.

Michael Barber, too, fails to acknowledge in any significant way the importance of addressing the needs of pupils with exceptional needs. Instead, he offers the panaceas of the school effectiveness and improvement movement which tend to regard special education as a last piece in a jigsaw, which will fall naturally into place when "bigger" issues have been resolved.

If we really want to move education forward so that it benefits all pupils and is genuinely more inclusive, then the task is to tackle the problem of educational standards on the basis of understanding complex diversity of needs. Such an understanding is essential if we are ever to improve standards for everyone. Failure to acknowledge this will simply sustain and perhaps increase the size of an educational underclass, that of "special needs".

I hope, therefore, that Mr Blunkett will consider expanding his team of experts to include at least one authority in special education.

CHRISTOPHER ROBERTSON

Senior lecturer The Department of Education Canterbury Christ Church College Canterbury, Kent

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