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Rules of engagement

Social work services, health managers, and speech and language therapists are having problems implementing the Additional Support for Learning Act.

An interim report by HM Inspectorate of Education evaluating the first five months of the legislation in operation, from October 2005 to February 2006, found that social work services needed to be better engaged with the Act.

Health managers had concerns over the availability of respite care and mental health resources to reflect the new, broader concept of additional support needs. Speech and language therapists were finding the duty to respond to the two-year timescale for transitional arrangements for children with Records of Needs "too challenging".

Last November, the system of assessment and recording of children with special educational needs was replaced by a framework around additional support needs, which are defined more broadly and include, for example, English as an additional language.

The inspectorate team reported last week that most authorities needed to provide more information for children and young people about their rights under the new legislation. A few authorities had yet to clarify, for staff and professionals, the procedures for managing the transition from Records of Need to co-ordinated support plans for children and young people in residential special schools or secure accommodation.

The report said: "Staged intervention approaches needed to take sufficient account of the broader definition within the Act of additional support needs and intervention strategies extended to encompass wider groups."

It added that further development was needed of approaches to consulting with and involving children and young people who lack capacity to make their views known. In only a few authorities were parents involved in strategic planning for implementation of the Act. Very few had informed all parents, as distinct from those whose children had a Record of Needs, of the change in the legislation.

HMIE did identify strengths. Many authorities had used the Act to develop or review their policy on inclusion: "Almost all authorities were building on existing good practice, such as the review of pupils' progress and using this as a vehicle for establishing, in discussion with parents and children and young people, whether a co-ordinated support plan was appropriate."

* http:www.hmie.gov.uk and click on publications

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