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Special schools face a hurdle over inclusion

The long-awaited report of the parliamentary inquiry into special educational needs, delayed by the exams investigation, will align itself firmly with the Scottish Executive's integrationist policies.

But the all-party report from the Parliament's education committee, to be published next week, takes a much tougher stand on the Government's "presumption" that pupils with special needs should be educated alongside mainstream peers, a provision which now has legal backing in the new education Act.

MSPs, in language which is bound to alarm special schools, will declare in their report: "In future placing decisions, where a special school is recommended, exclusion from mainstream must be justified in relation to the child's best interests.

"The justification must include a statement about how the special school will contribute to the child's inclusion, for example by specifying arrangements for part-time participation in mainstream, plans for later transfer to mainstream or extracurricular activities."

The Labour-controlled committee underlines its inclusive message by calling or much closer collaboration between special and mainstream schools, including more opportunities for staff and pupils to move between the sectors. It also recommends split placements and suggests outreach work in rural areas could be carried out by special school staff.

The report makes its expected strong criticism of the system for recording pupils, anticipating what is likely to be an overhaul of the record of needs. MSPs are understood to accept that the system has become cumbersome, driven by the availability of resources, divorced from the views of the child and inconsistent across authorities.

But the committee does not set out a preferred alternative. It will point simply to views such as those of educational psychologists that all pupils should have the same treatment when it comes to the assessment of their learning needs, possibly through the extension of personal learning plans.

Councils have proposed a register of pupils with needs, to cover 20 per cent of the school population rather than the 2 per cent for whom the present recording system is intended.

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