Call to police special needs

10th March 2000 at 00:00
MEDIATORS may have to referee clashes between councils and parents over plans for special educational needs, East Dunbartonshire has warned MSPs.

With back-up from the proliferation of specialist support groups and the Internet, parents are more expert at campaigning and are placing authorities under increasing strain, it says in its response to the Parliament's inquiry into special educational needs.

"Resources, particularly human resources, can become skewed as a result of the constantly increasing demands and expectations which a minority of parents expect to be met," the authority cautions.

It now believes mediation services are "likely to become a significant feature". Parents believe their needs are not understood by authorities, while they fail to appreciate that schools are structured around large teaching groups.

"The problem for local authorities is that individual families and their needs are unique and there are currently difficulties in developing services which are flexible enough, joined up enough and extensive enough to meet those unique requirements."

Parents may therefore demand expensive respite services or residential schools when they become frustrated at what they regard as local shortcomings.

The council reports growing demands on teachers and support staff who deal with individualised educational programmes(IEPs).

"Time for consultation, target-setting, reviews, discussions with parents, writing of home-school diaries and joint planning with therapists, support staff and school-based staff all place enormous demands on professionals and in particular on their time. Schools have limited resources to facilitate the range of demands created by joined-up working while parents' expectations are ever-increasing," it states.

Class teachers need to balance time spent on an individual pupil with the needs of the whole group.

North Lanarkshire meanwhile notes that parents arrive with "feelings of frustration, anger and guilt" when thy first contact professionals and need to be treated sensitively. But it,too, adds: "It is sometimes difficult for an authority to explain its wider responsibilities to a parent of an individual child who wants the best for that child and who does not wish to consider what the implications may be for other parents and council taxpayers."

The council defends the quality of provision in special schools and maintains:

"The range of supports available is extremely difficult to duplicate in a mainstream setting, particularly with respect to health service provision."

Contrary to the views of some pressure groups, special schools are a cost-efficient way of providing for primary and secondary pupils, North Lanarkshire says.

To increase the number of placements in mainstream primaries schools would need extra support for learning staff, adapted buildings, specialist equipment and additional training for teachers. "Inclusive education may be 'most appropriate', but it is also more expensive than focusing a number of specialist resources in a special school," it adds.

In secondaries, the number of teachers and subjects and the need for children to move between classes present obstacles to greater inclusion. To avoid the cost of adapting all secondaries, North Lanarkshire wants to establish at least two physically inclusive schools in each area.

Glasgow, with a special needs budget of pound;37 million covering almost 2,500 pupils with a record of needs in mainstream schools and another 500 in pre-school provision, calls for national consistency in staffing.

The city wants auxiliaries to be included in Government funding to recognise the level of support demanded by long-term, complex needs. "The previous practice of special needs auxiliaries being a short-term, recyclable resource is no longer the case," it insists.

All three authorities are pressing for a rethink on links between education and health, which controls therapy services.

Leader, page 16

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