Special, or not special enough?

Local government reorganisation a decade ago appears to have done more to drive forward the policy of mainstreaming children with special needs than the Scottish Executive's subsequent legislation which enshrined the presumption of mainstreaming nearly five years later. The Conservatives might do well to remember this the next time they initiate a debate on mainstreaming and accuse the Executive of closing special schools. For the origins of many of the pressures on specialist provision date back to the disbandment of the nine mainland regional authorities and the creation of 29 councils in their place.

The latest research (page 1) confirms some of the biggest problems facing the special needs sector have as much to do with smaller authorities being inter-dependent for specialist provision and placements as anything else.

There is a clear need for a strategic overview - from the Scottish Executive if necessary - so that specialist provision is developed to benefit all users.

Strategic workforce planning and development are all the more necessary now that the Additional Support for Learning Act is in operation. Few doubt that its rights-based provisions will create even greater pressure on resources and providers. But if children are to avoid the pitfalls of postcode lottery provision, then more needs to be done to achieve consensus on good practice, ironing out some of the current wide variations.

The research report shows that Aberdeen and Argyll and Bute both exempted 10 children from mainstream provision on the ground that it was not suited to the ability or aptitude of the child; in contrast, 573 children in South Lanarkshire and 710 in Fife were exempted on the same grounds under the Standards in Scotland's Schools Act 2000. Such wide variations beg many questions.

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