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Support patchy in the mainstream

Primary and secondary pupils' chances of getting extra help to meet their special educational needs still seem to be too dependent on where they go to school.

New government statistics for statemented pupils in mainstream schools confirm that there are wide variations across England.

Only 100 of the 26,000 primary pupils in Nottingham had statements last January, compared with 75 of the 2,500 children in rural Rutland, just down the road.

In Devon and Dorset, 2 per cent of primary pupils had statements while in Cornwall the figure was 3 per cent, one of the highest.

At secondary level, the differences are more marked. In Cornwall, 4.3 per cent of pupils had statements, compared with only 0.4 per cent in Nottinghamshire - just over 200 pupils. These percentages undoubtedly reflect local policies on inclusion.

In Nottinghamshire and Nottingham City two-thirds of pupils with statements are in special schools. But more than 80 per cent of statemented pupils in Cornwall are in primaries and secondaries.

The variation between local authorities and even individual schools was noted by the Audit Commission in its recent report, "Special educational needs: a mainstream issue". It said the discrepancies may partly stem from local policy decisions that have produced different eligibility criteria and funding arrangements.

However, the statistics may also point to different attitudes and practice. Some highly inclusive schools have relatively few statements because they are experienced at meeting children's needs and possibly better equipped.

Conversely, the commission noted that "some academically successful schools have a relatively high level of statements, given the needs of their pupils, perhaps because they have less experience of working with children with special educational needs". But it remains to be seen whether councils will accept the commission's conclusion that "all SEN children should have the option of attending a local mainstream school".

John Howson is a director of Education Data Surveys

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