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Special needs allowances under threat

TEACHERS SAY they are completely under-equipped to handle mainstream classes with special needs pupils, as the Government takes advice on abandoning additional pay for special needs teachers.

The School Teachers' Review Body will report today to Alan Johnson, Education Secretary, on whether special educational needs allowances remain appropriate.

But unions and employers have warned that they are not yet ready to get rid of the allowances, worth pound;1,818 or pound;3,597 depending on a teacher's qualifications and experience with special needs children.

All teachers in special schools are entitled to one of the payments, but they are discretionary for special needs teachers in other schools. The new teaching and learning responsibility payments could be used to reward special needs teachers, instead of the older-style allowances that have been phased out elsewhere.

But the National Union of Teachers and the National Association of Head Teachers argue that the allowances recognise the specific skills, experience and demands of special needs teaching. And other unions, in partnership with employers and the education department, said Labour should commission an "open, honest" review of the allowances, without drawing any foregone conclusions.

This year, The House of Commons education select committee criticised the policy of including special needs pupils in mainstream schools, saying it was forcing the closure of special schools and disadvantaging some special needs children.

The schools of England and Wales contain 1.45 million special needs pupils - nearly one in six children - and 25,500 full-time equivalent teachers receive the allowances.

The review body is expected to advise that more work is needed before it abandons the allowances. A survey of 100 teachers, commissioned by the National Union of Teachers, showed most teachers had dealt with pupils with special needs, ranging from behavioural difficulties to severe learning difficulties. But few had received specific training or proper classroom support to help them deal with those children.

John Bangs, the union's head of education, said special needs teachers in mainstream schools were "gold dust", but they were being asked to embrace inclusion with no support, no training, and a threat to their allowances.

In other changes, the review body will advise that there is widespread support for incentive payments for biology and general science teachers to retrain as physics and chemistry teachers.

The Treasury has announced a pilot project to retrain 60 teachers with new diplomas, in a bid to address the continuing shortage of physics and science teachers.

Last week The TES reported that the review body would recommend paying part-time teachers consistently with full-timers, at an estimated cost of up to pound;46million. Part-time teachers are predominantely women, fitting teaching around raising a family, and their poor pay has been criticised as discriminatory

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