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Parents unite to fight closure

A parents' action group is fighting the closure of four Gloucestershire special schools catering for children with moderate learning difficulties.

"Mainstream schools offer a watered-down education," said Graham Barton, who chairs the group. He argues that unlike the mainstream sector, special schools have the staff and resources to cater for children with learning difficulties.

Betteridge special school would seem to prove him right. It has facilities that a mainstream school could only dream about - a hydrotherapy pool, a soft play room and a sensory garden. But Betteridge is for pupils with severe learning difficulties and the county still has an inclusion policy for children with less severe handicaps.

John Nash, Gloucestershire's senior adviser, argued that the answer was for mainstream schools to be given more control over funds that are used to help special needs pupils. In return, they would need to be able to demonstrate what they are doing for the children.

"We need to move away from the statementing bureaucracy," he said. "We want to reduce our current level of statementing by 70 per cent. The money will still go to schools, and it will allow our educational psychologists 70 per cent more time. This is time they can use to work with parents and teachers."

Gloucestershire is already investigating the possibility of special schools working with clusters of mainstream ones. But parents will need some persuading.

"We are not saying that inclusion shouldn't happen," said Graham Barton, "but mainstream provision isn't there at the moment. When a properly trained teacher works with your child you see what can be done."

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