Special needs education in Wales is highly innovative but seriously underfunded, according to two of the sector's leading bodies.
The newly-launched Welsh executive of the National Association for Special Educational Needs this week praised the work of SEN specialists but bemoaned the lack of funding. Many special needs teachers in Wales feel sidelined by funding inequities, it says.
"Many are undertaking classroom-based research without the funding available to their English colleagues," said Maggie Bowen, regional president for NASEN Cymru, who is based at the North East Wales Institute of Higher Education in Wrexham.
"Special needs teachers in Wales want to improve their practice, too, but there is no Welsh equivalent of the teacher-research grants proposed by the Department for Education and Employment."
According to Maggie Bowen, special education in Wales is also suffering from a lack of investment in information technology. Children with dyslexia and autistic disorders are particularly disadvantaged.
There is also a dearth of Welsh-speaking special needs teachers and a shortage of specialist materials in Welsh. The introduction of the new code of practice on special educational needs will place even greater demands on resources.
It is feared that funding to implement the legislation will not match the levels in England. Roger Bishop, who directs the Welsh SpecialNeeds Advisory Project - the largest voluntary advice and support agency for parents in Wales - says: "So far, thee has been a reluctance in Wales to earmark money to meet the requirements of the new Act, and people are having to negotiate for every pound."
Despite the challenges, SNAP is pushing ahead with its plans to increase support for parents of special needs children, one of the main changes to be introduced by the new code of practice. "Named persons", who counsel parents, will be replaced by "independent parental supporters", who will be available much earlier in the process of identifying special needs - as soon as a child is placed on stage 1 of the code of practice.
SNAP anticipates that the change could double its rate of referrals overnight and has launched a recruitment drive for more volunteers. It is looking at school-based support projects in two local authorities, and is also considering community-based work.
"Instead of sending out volunteers from a central office, we would like communities to feel more involved in what we do," explains Mary Jones, SNAP's asistant development officer.
Olwen El-Naggar of NASEN will be speaking on "Special needs and Maths 2000 (key stages 1 and 2)" on Friday, July 14 at 9.30am. Her colleague, John Visser, will speak on "Inclusion: an achievable goal for all" at 1.30pm on the same day.
'ACHIEVING DYSLEXSIA FRIENDLY SCHOOLS' is available priced pound;5 from the BDA, 98 London Road, Reading, Berkshire, RG1 5AU. tel. 0118 966 2677. Email info"dyslexiahelpbda.demon.co.uk. Nia Wood and Enid Jones will be speaking on Dyslexia at midday on July 14.