Bridge the need gaps;Leading Article;Opinion

17th September 1999 at 01:00
AT SOME levels of detail the Scottish Executive can show it is working better than the media give credit for. Young people's special needs are an example.

The education of children with severe and often highly specific handicaps was looked at by the Riddell committee reporting to Sam Galbraith. The recommendations of the Beattie committee on the continuing education, training and employment of school-leavers with special needs fell to Henry McLeish as minister for enterprise and lifelong learning. Intelligent co-ordination in publishing the two reports and the Executive's response to them, including extra money, has focused attention this week on special needs.

From the earliest years parents frequently have to battle to get what they think necessary for their child. Co-ordination of services, including health which is outwith local government, is one problem they face. Locating resources to match diagnosis is another, with school budgets stretched to cope with the costs of a handicapped pupil, and hospitals and schools sometimes offering only limited education. What happens as young people leave school is a particular worry. A succession of unsatisfying jobs, or unemployment, is too often the prospect.

The Executive seeks to answer Riddell and Beattie within its social inclusion strategy. The right to education is to be more firmly spelled out: in principle, disability should be no handicap. Further education, training centres and employers will be involved in ensuring that fewer youngsters with problems are cast adrift. Provision for special needs has come a long way since the Warnock report in the seventies. The two reports this week identify continuing gaps that will take co-ordination among agencies, as well as money, to bridge.

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