The Scottish Executive is to set up a national advisory forum on special educational needs, as part of a pound;12 million package to help more pupils with disabilities settle into mainstream schools.
Sam Galbraith, the Children and Education Minister, made the announcement on Tuesday. He was responding to a report from the committee set up last year, under the chairmanship of Professor Sheila Riddell of Glasgow University, to look into "severe low incidence disabilities". The new forum will be chaired by the Deputy Children and Education Minister, currently Peter Peacock.
Local authorities are already budgeting to spend pound;200 million on special educational needs this year. But the Scottish Executive accepts that more is required to meet the costs of integration, including building adaptations, special furniture, fresh materials and auxiliary staff.
The extra pound;6 million in each of the next two years will form a new element, to be known as the inclusion programme, in the Scottish Executive's excellence fund.
Professor Riddell called for education and social services legislation to be brought into line so that children and their parents have guaranteed rights in law. "We believe that it is necessary to break with the historical legacy of provision for children with severe low incidence disabilities, which has sometimes hindered rather than promoted change, and has certainly failed to deliver the same quality of provision to all."
Ministers have also promised action on several fronts, including the long standing impasse between education authorities and health boards over the provision of speech therapy and physiotherapy for young children. The Riddell report said that "a far greater degree of inter-agency co-operation" is still required.
Unveiling the new moves at St Crispin's Special School in Edinburgh, Mr Galbraith said it was essential to include all children in the Government's improvement agenda. Provision must be "equitable", he said, and ministers have ruled it "unacceptable" that children in special schools or units should attend for less time than those in mainstream schools.
Mr Galbraith also announced that the law would be clarified to ensure a full education for young people unable to attend school for health reasons.
The Scottish Executive has accepted the Riddell report's recommendation that the seven grant-aided special schools, catering for around 400 pupils, should lose their pound;7 million Government funding. The report says these schools, which include Donaldson's School for the Deaf and the Craig Halbert Centre in Cumbernauld, no longer operate as national centres. The money will be transferred to local authorities instead over a three-year transitional period.
These latest measures on special needs follow on from the extra pound;3 million for innovation centres announced last week and the pledges on the Beattie report this week.
Leader, page 18