Saving on special needs therapy is 'money in the bank'

KATIE GALLOP, a Year 2 teacher in central London, teaches eight special needs pupils in a class of 21. Catering for them takes preparation and creativity. "If their needs aren't met they can cause disruption", she said.

Only one of her pupils at Burdett-Coutts CofE primary school, in Westminster, is statemented, allowing his one-on-one tuition to be increased from six hours a week to 20.

Not all pupils are so lucky. Eleanor Wright, the head of education at the law firm Fisher Meredith, believes some local authorities deliberately drag their feet. "If they can save half a term's fees or therapy, it's money in the bank," she said.

For this reason, the Commons education select committee has recommended handing over responsibility for statementing to an independent body. But the Government has refused, fuelling controversy over special needs support.

After a lengthy wait for assessment, exacerbated by a shortage of educational psychologists, many children are finding their council is unwilling to offer them a special school place unless their parents challenge the decision in court. A TES survey in 2005 indicated that 40 per cent of teachers work with children they think would be better off in a special school.

Angela Feeney, whose son was diagnosed with ADHD and Asperger's syndrome, fought an 18-month battle with Waltham Forest council, in north London, for a special school place. "I did absolutely everything I could possibly do and they continued to push for him to go mainstream," she said. "I was willing to fight, but who's helping the other children?"

Julie Maynard, a lay special needs representative, has received increasing numbers of calls from parents wishing to contest their child's school place. "Inclusion is right for some children. But it has become an ideology that doesn't respond to the needs of the child and is mixed up with the need to cut costs," she said.

The number of appeals to the special educational needs and disability tribunal rose last year by 6 per cent to a record high. Nearly 10 per cent of the appeals related to school places.

Some special schools are asking parents to pay for a private assessment in order to reserve a place while they go to tribunal.

Paul Morrow, a special educational needs co-ordinator at College Park special school in Westminster, said he was sad to meet pupils who had been referred to him too late.

"We've one boy who developed emotional and behavioural difficulties at his comprehensive because his dyslexia had not been addressed," he said. "He would have benefited so much if he had come to us at an earlier age."

Leader, page 26

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