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Quest for help to get legal backing;Special needs

Families whose children have special educational needs could get new legal support in their search for advice and information.

Ministers are considering ways of ensuring that local authorities put parents in touch with independent advisers - mainly other parents or retired teachers.

Government officials say that 25 per cent of councils are still not running parent-partnership schemes. These, with the "independent parental supporters", are intended to help families when children are given a statement (the formal contracts that describe pupils' educational needs).

As a result, some parents are left confused and may find themselves in conflict with schools and education authorities.

Ministers say that SEN pupils achieve the best results where parents, schools and education authorities work together.

Conciliation services and earlier support could help reduce the demand for statements and the workload of the SEN tribunal, which hears cases from dissatisfied parents.

Delegates at a conference on parent-partnership were told that ministers would resort to the law if councils failed to adopt good practice and the new guidance expected in a revised, draft SEN code of practice, which is to be published in the autumn.

Stephen Crowne, head of SEN at the Department for Education and Employment, said: "The target is to ensure all education authorities have parent-partnership schemes - not just the three-quarters that have at present."

Parents needed to be told what help was available for their child and how they could access it, he said. "There is a strong likelihood that the Government will legislate to put a duty on local education authorities to provide that information."

The Government has allocated pound;6 million to ensure that every English education authority has a parent-partnership scheme up-and-running this year.

Delegates at the conference, organised by the Council for Disabled Children (CDC), suggested schools could also do better.

Philippa Stobbs, of the CDC, said: "Many parent-partnership services have been trying to get more information to parents through schools.

"Some schools are reluctant to pass that information on - they might feel anxious about involving outside people in discussions about how they are meeting children's needs.

"I think it would be good to look at schools having this obligation as well."

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