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A small, beautiful pocket of special needs reform

The Welsh are looking forward to proving that small is beautiful when it comes to implementing their special educational needs code of practice.

Wales, which has only 22 education authorities, finds it much easier to co-operate on new policies than England. But as the number of Welsh pupils with statements rose by around 35 per cent to 17,250 between 1991-2000, efficiency is vital.

"Some local education authorities tell us their special needs services are coming under strain," says Alan Lansdown, head of the Welsh Assembly's pupil support division. "The Assembly is now carrying out a detailed analysis of LEAs' needs."

To prevent a "postcode lottery" of special-needs funding, where every LEA has different criteria for statementing pupils, the Assembly and local authorities are working together on joint guidance.

Mr Lansdown believes that improved diagnosis is one reason for the huge rise in statements. In autism alone, there has been a 10-fold rise in the cases diagnosed over the past decade, according to recent research.

To encourage LEAs to pool precious resources, the National Assembly has set up pilot projects which plan SEN provision on a regional basis. In north Wales, local authorities, including several from north-west England, are to share a new pound;2 million school in Denbigh specialising in autism. The Assembly hopes that this cente of excellence will set a precedent that others will follow. But one of the biggest challenges posed by the new Welsh code of practice - to be introduced in the next school year - will be providing assessment and support in Welsh.

Some local authorities find it difficult to recruit Welsh-speaking educational psychologists and speech therapists, according to Mr Lansdown. To combat the problem, the Assembly has set up two working groups to find ways of developing assessment materials and encouraging Welsh-speakers to join the special needs service. One solution could be persuading training institutions to introduce a Welsh module into courses.

However, some LEAs such as Swansea already boast an impressive line-up of Welsh-speaking SEN specialists. The hope is that this level of expertise will soon exist in other areas.

Susannah Kirkman Alan Lansdown will speak on the SEN code of practice at 10.30am on Thursday, May 24.

THE NEW CODE FOR WALES

1 Assessment and materials should be available in Welsh.

2 Statementing stages are reduced from five to four.

3 At stage one, parents will be entitled to support from an independent parent-partnership scheme provided by their LEA.

4 Children should be educated in mainstream schools unless parents object, or governors decide their presence would be detrimental to other pupils.


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