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Picking up the Bill

IT will probably come as little surprise that HMI has found special schools to be strong on pastoral care but less so on the curriculum. Such schools have to deal with the most complex learning and behavioural problems and a restricted choice of subjects, accompanied by a shorter week, must seem the best option for many. They know differently now.

What is possibly more remarkable is that many of the comments from HMI in this, its first Standards and Quality report on special schools, could have come straight out of inspectorate reports on the mainstream sector - curricular imbalance, poor pace of learning, insufficient challenge, significant instances of weak leadership and not enough staff development.

Special schools, which have felt somewhat beleaguered of late as political momentum switches to including more pupils in mainstream classes, will none the less take heart from the conclusion that they continue to play a significant role.

The major emphasis over the coming year, however, will be on the additional support for learning Bill. Three-quarters of pupils with special educational needs are in primary and secondary schools. While the Bill has been given a general welcome, the Executive is by no means out of the woods.

Part of its objective is to free up the bureaucracy surrounding special needs provision, particularly assessment. But not all are convinced that sweeping away the record of needs in favour of a "co-ordinated support plan" is the answer. And that plan itself will be open to a wider group of pupils, putting a considerable strain on resources. This will not come as good news for education authorities in what is a notoriously 'demand-led' service.

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