Axe falls on string of special schools

5th May 2000 at 01:00
A FIFTH of failing special schools have been closed, compared to just 6 per cent of failing primaries. Most of those shut down were for pupils with behavioural problems.

Special school heads say their schools are more likely to be failed by the Office for Standards in Education: around 8-9 per cent are put into special measures, compared to 3 per cent of mainstream primaries and secondaries.

Heads of schools for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties believe they will continue to be more likely to fail, unless inspectors take more account of the extreme behaviour they have to deal with.

Gerry Gamble, chairman of the National Association of EBD Schools, warned that failure and closure rates could even increase as a result of tough new inspection criteria, which came into effect in January.

He said: "There is concern that the OFSTED criteria are not fair, given the pupil population in EBD schools.

"We had one Year 9 class in my school that, on its own, would have led to us failing OFSTED - whichever teacher was teaching them. It just depends on the time of year."

Schools minister Estelle Morris, in answer to written parliamentary questions, said 26 (21 per cent) of 122 spcial schools which failed inspections have closed, with 66 now off the special measures list. That compares to 609 failed primary schools, of which 41 (6.7 per cent) have been closed and 382 have so far recovered.

Seventeen of the closed special schools were for pupils with EBD. Most of these were single-sex boys' schools, many with residential places. Pupils at four of the other closed special schools had behaviour problems as well as their learning difficulties. Pupils were all relocated.

Re-organisation of either special needs services or local government boundaries was a factor in at least seven of the 26 special school closures.

A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said: "Special measures is only one possible reason for closure. In the vast majority of cases, special schools face closure because local education authorities decide to re-organise their provision."

In some cases, a poor OFSTED report in just one school triggered a full review of all special needs learning, leading to a shake-up of several schools.

The inspection framework is the same for all schools, but OFSTED issues separate guidance to inspectors for primary, secondary and special schools.

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