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Parents face tough time

Working for Children: Securing Provision for Children with Special Educational Needs. By Peter Bibby and Ingrid Lunt. David Fulton Pounds 16.99

The recent annual report of the Special Education Needs Tribunal records more than 1,100 appeals to it in its first year. The number took officials by surprise. This book may help to make it higher.

The value of this book lies primarily in its second section. This brings together for the first time information about the four statutory routes open to parents dissatisfied with provision for special educational needs (SEN): complaints to the Secretary of State, complaints to the Local Government Ombudsman, appeal to the SEN Tribunal and application to the High Court.

Four chapters summarise the complaint-making procedures for each of these routes, examine the grounds for complaints, appeals and review, and refer to other aspects such as legal aid. No routes are easy, all are daunting. If complaints can be settled quickly and locally time, money and anguish will be spared. But the authors are not optimistic. They believe that "the levels of provision suggested in the Code of Practice will not usually be possible within current budgets." Outlook: stormy for parents, sunshine for lawyers.

The first and longer part of the book differs in emphasis from the second and raises the question of whether the two sections were written jointly or singly (throughout the book "author" is used in the singular and only the first author's name and address appear under the acknowledgements). This first section sets the context, describing the levels of special educational provision which parents can expect local education authorities to offer.

The first chapter leaps without ado into a summary of special education since 1944. The next two deal with identifying special needs using the Code of Practice, and with provision by schools. In the fourth, on funding,readers are plunged into a whirlpool of tables and figures. The last two chapters in this section discuss LEA assessments and statements of SEN.

Both sections include some timely, sometimes curious, observations. On parent choice, for instance, the authors stress that a child with a statement naming a school will normally take precedence over all other aspiring entrants. So parents who can ensure that a statement is issued or amended at the right time "can secure entry to any comprehensive state school of their choice, provided that mainstream education is appropriate for the child".

Does the book live up to its title? Will it work for special children in general or almost exclusively for those with dyslexia whose middle class parents have been disproportionately successful in pushing complaints and appeals? With better planning and editing it could have been made more accessible to a wider range of parents and other readers. Instead it will tend to widen the divide between those who are informed and articulate and those parents who need clearer and more digestible guidance in order to pursue their rights under the law.

Margaret Peter is a former editor of the British Journal of Special Education

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