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Special costs for special needs

IS this to be the year of special education? The education Act last year enshrined the Executive's general commitment to mainstream provision. The Parliament's education committee has conducted an inquiry into practical implications of the policy, including recognition of parents' wishes and those of the children concerned. Overshadowed by the MSPs' investigation of the exams fiasco, their SEN report should be published later this month.

Meanwhile, as David Henderson reports (page five), local authorities are spending more on special education than they budgeted for - and pound;35 million more than the Executive's subvention. Attention to disabilities and finding the right solution for individual pupils come expensive. That is especially so when mainstream schools need alteraions to accommodate pupils with handicaps and extra staffing to help them cope with classroom life. Transport is also an unforgiving burden.

Where problems are acute and require specialised attention, or where parents demand provision beyond what most authorities can find within their own resources, enrolment is made in independently run special schools. The mounting cost to councils has led to difficulties which, optimistically, will be eased under the new agreement by which the schools and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities will look at fees (TESS, last week).

If there is political impetus, one of the Executive's much vaunted national priorities can be the special needs of a minority whose very diversity poses the challenge and incurs a cost.

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