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Special needs take aseat in the classroom

Education conveners met in South Lanarkshire last week to learn from the experts, reports Neil Munro

Pupils with special needs and learning problems can be included in mainstream classes without dragging down academic standards, the seminar heard.

In a strong plea for "inclusivity", Jon Mager, assistant director of education in Aberdeen, attacked national policies such as spending restrictions and placing requests which militated against the Scottish Office's own strategy of "more inclusion, less exclusion". The Government's target-setting plans would have a "disastrous" effect, Mr Mager said.

Aberdeen has established 17 special needs bases in primary and secondary schools, with another five planned this year. Mr Mager says the goal is one in every secondary and in at least one primary in each area of the city by 2001. Separate schools would be retained for specialist problems.

Mr Mager said initial opposition and scepticism has been "washed away" as parents and staff saw the inclusive approach working and as the authority demonstrated it was prepared to take criticisms on board. There are currently 80 applications for places in special needs bases and 11 for special schools.

He also called for an end to the "free market" in applications for special needs places, which gives enormous power to headteachers. Aberdeen has established two city-wide admissions panels for special needs and problem pupils, which encourages heads to act as a council resource, not as discrete units.

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