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Special needs fear over Becta revamp

Dispersal of SENInclusion team seen as a retrograde step, writes George Cole

A radical overhaul of the British Educational Communications and Technology Agency's (Becta's) Special Educational Needs (SEN) Inclusion team has caused much concern and consternation in the SEN sector. The new changes include the disbanding of the team, which will be dispersed across a newly organised Becta. Special needs and ICT chat sites and message boards have been filled with comments from SEN practitioners who see the move as a step backwards.

Sally Paveley, ICTSEN consultant at The Advisory Unit: Computers in Education, said: "As things stand, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that this move will result in less rather than more support being available to teachers - and ultimately the children who rely on this technology." (Sally comments more on this issue in this month's Edict, page 8.) Becta also plans to hand over its inclusion website to an, as yet, unnamed third party. Many are puzzled by Becta's move, including Sean O'Sullivan, deputy head of Frank Wise school in Banbury. "I don't believe that if Becta wanted to improve the provision for SEN and ICT it would have disbanded the team," he said. "The perception was that the team was working very successfully."

Members of Becta's inclusion team will be spread across four new directorates: infrastructure, content, teaching and learning, and e-maturity. Each will have a full or part-time member with a remit for SENInclusion. There will also be an SEN co-ordinator whose task will be to monitor SENInclusion development across the new directorates.

Christine Vincent, director of the teaching and learning directorate, said:

"It's an interesting time in the evolution of Becta, which is taking on a wider remit in supporting the Government's e-strategy. We'll be providing strategic advice for government and intermediaries like local education authorities, rather than directly to practitioners." She added that these changes began happening more than two years ago.

Vincent pointed out that all Becta teams are subject to the new changes, adding: "The new co-ordinator with responsibility for monitoring SENInclusion across Becta will be at senior management position. This role will be taken by Chris Stevens, the current head of our SENInclusion team.

We're also looking to set up a national strategy group to champion the use of assistive technology across the curriculum, and each directorate will commit up to 10 days a year to be a champion for inclusion." She also explained that a lot of Becta's work will be devoted to policy at government level and this will impact on what practitioners do in the classroom.

"I understand people's concerns," said Chris Stevens, "but the co-ordinator's role will be to ensure that there is a consistent and co-ordinated message across Becta." But despite his reassurances, there is still much concern. Lesley Rahamin, an SEN consultant, said: "Is the answer to disband the separate Inclusion team? This type of reorganisation has been done before and it would be wonderful if the model worked. But many of us have seen it fail in the past because it has overlooked the complex needs of the individuals we teach. We want to ensure that the students served so well by the Inclusion team will receive the same standard of service under the new arrangements. You can tell by the reaction of our community that many of us do not welcome the proposed change."

Sean O'Sullivan added: "Why do companies and businesses have discrete departments? It's because specialism leads to expertise and success. The disbanded SEN team is gravely at risk of diluting its skills in the long term. There's a danger that special needs is no longer seen as something special."

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