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Special needs: rethink pledged

Peter Peacock, the Education Minister, renewed the undertaking he gave to The TES Scotland in his first interview (June 13) to reconsider some of the proposals in the draft Additional Support for Learning Bill, taking time to reflect over the summer parliamentary recess.

The legislation has caused controversy among some special needs pressure groups for proposing to abolish the record of needs without, they claim, putting adequate safeguards in its place.

He said in his interview with The TESS that he wanted to look at the concerns that had been expressed "to see if we can make it a better piece of legislation".

The Minister kicked off the process on Wednesday by holding a lengthy series of meetings with local and health authorities, voluntary groups and parent bodies.

Afterwards, Mr Peacock pledged "to examine ways we can improve proposals for the new system further", Judith Gillespie, of the Scottish Parent Teacher Council, and Eddie Follan, of Children in Scotland, both commented on the "open and positive" tone of the meeting.

Among the issues explored with the health and local authorities were the contentious ones of joined-up working, including common budgets and integrated children's services. Even education and social work departments within individual councils have found this a difficult problem to crack.

Mr Peacock also wanted views on the boundaries of responsibility for special needs between health boards and local authorities, and the proposals in the Bill for a mediation service and a complaints procedure.

He also heard views from some of the parental representatives who believe the authorities will be able to get round some of the provisions on appeals, the rights of children and a duty to cater for future needs after the youngsters leave school.

Mr Peacock said, however, that despite any reservations, the draft Bill would lead to "a more effective approach to additional support needs by modernising the current system - building on its strengths and addressing its weaknesses."

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