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Special needs of OFSTED

I am the head of a therapeutic community for young people with a combination of learning difficulties, behavioural and emotional problems.

Having been inspected recently, I believe that the whole system for assessing centres like ours is deeply flawed. The people involved are like blind men or women touching a part of an elephant and drawing conclusions as to what this strange beast might be.

Allington Manor deals with the education, care and psychological treatment of young people. While OFSTED could deliver erudite remarks on the failings of a particular educational approach, they had little or nothing to say about the care and therapeutic aspects of our work.

But these two aspects are, in fact, the most important in seeking to redeem and sometimes even totally rehabilitate youngsters who have failed in many other schools.

While we do have educational requirements, including the national curriculum, there are other, fundamental things to tackle with these young people.

I believe that the best and most useful asssessment of our work would be made by people with experience in running similar establishments. They would know how difficult and complex the task is. Such people could assess the care side of what is, after all, a residential home.

They would also have knowledge and experience of treatment within therapeutic communities, using a great variety of psychological techniques.

Until this is done, centres such as mine will undoubtedly never pass the test despite the fact that we are helping youngsters whom nobody else wishes or is able to help. Mainstream education and, indeed, many special schools fail them.

And until OFSTED becomes aware of the nature and complexity of pupils with special needs, inspections will never be satisfactory and certainly will do little to improve the prospects of children who are in dire need of specialist help.

Dr Ludwig Lowenstein is principal of Allington Manor, Eastleigh, Hampshire

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