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Needs Bill flawed, MSPs warned

Ministers' plans to improve provision for pupils with special educational needs may end up weakening the rights of children and parents and strengthening the control of councils.

Sheila Riddell, professor of disability studies at Glasgow University, warned MSPs on Wednesday that once records of need are scrapped under imminent legislation, there is no guarantee that local authorities will provide the aids and auxiliary services such children need.

Professor Riddell told the Scottish Parliament's education committee during its first-stage investigation into the Draft Education (Additional Support for Learning) Scotland Bill: "Teachers will not like this either because it will be seen as mainstreaming on the cheap. I am a very strong supporter of inclusion but unless it is adequately resourced, it is not going to work."

As proposals stand, it would be left to authorities to decide who would benefit from the new co-ordinated support plan (CSP) that will replace the record.

Professor Riddell,who chaired the national inquiry into the education of children with severe low incidence disabilities, said: "There are real problems and there are a large number of children who will have no legal document to say what the education authority is going to provide for them.

This is a major weakness."

There was nothing in the draft Bill to suggest that the numbers of children identified with difficulties, and who would previously have been recorded, would diminish as some anticipated. There was also nothing to tie authorities to specific time-scales or ensure they followed good practice.

She pointed out that the largest groups with records were children with moderate learning difficulties and those with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, both of which had links to deprivation. The majority of children diagnosed with conditions such as dyslexia were middle class.

Julie Allan, professor of education at Stirling University, told MSPs that the views of children and parents should be what drove the service but they were often ignored. The key challenge facing ministers and MSPs was to create an alternative to the discredited records of need system which safeguarded parents' rights to equitable and accessible provision for their children.

The Bill follows a consultation that began more than two years ago and aims to replace the term special educational needs with additional support needs. It will scrap the record and introduce the co-ordinated support plan for pupils with multiple or complex needs who need services. This will be reviewed every year.

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