Check promised on how special needs cash is spent

24th March 2000 at 00:00
THE Executive's extra money for special educational needs is not getting through to all children who need it, parents and professionals at a conference on speech and language disorders have told the Deputy Children and Education Minister. Peter Peacock was asked to ring-fence the pound;6.5 million provided last year.

Nancy Little, head of speech and language therapy for Fife Primary Care NHS Trust, said: "We are caught between central and local government."

But Mr Peacock said that ring-fencing posed "a democratic dilemma" since it prevented councils from making their own funding decisions. There was also an "anomaly", unsolved at the time of local government reorganisation, of different council and health board boundaries.

"We are wrestling with the consequences," he said. If policy objectives were not being realised, ministers would have to look at the problem. He hoped for a stronger dialogue with the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities.

Mr Peacock promised to check on how special needs money has been distributed at local level. But "we have been in office for only eight months, and this is a long journey. Judge our progress in a year's time."

The conference, organised in Edinburgh by Afasic Scotland, heard from Jack Law, father of a Glasgow boy in S3, who contrasted the way professionals had interrogated the minister with their reluctance to involve parents and young people.

Frequently, detailed information and reports for case conferences were presented on the day of a meeting, with no opportunity forparents to reach conclusions beforehand.

"I'm here because the education system finds it difficult to allow my child to achieve his ambitions. I've had to argue, push, dig in and monitor my child's education since primary and through secondary school."

Mr Law asked how many schools had a policy on inclusion - "but they all have one on bullying. My child is different because he is made to feel different because the education system finds it difficult to meet his needs. Our children don't need that feeling reinforced."

Carol Miller, senior lecturer in education at Birmingham University, said teachers had to learn how to communicate with pupils who have language problems. It was no good saying "I'm going to tell you this only once". They needed repetition, and they had difficulty with metaphors like "pull your socks up", which they tended to interpret literally. Possible links between bad behaviour in class and language disorders had to be considered.

Ann Auchterlonie, director of Afasic Scotland, told The TES Scotland later that teachers needed pre-service and in-service training, especially in secondary schools. The Scottish Qualifications Authority had undertaken to look at help for pupils with speech problems, especially since these would impair the chance of achieving Higher Still core skills.

Sympathising with parents' complaints, Ms Auchterlonie said that it made a mockery of inclusion policies when pupils at the start of the summer holidays still did not know which school they would be going to.

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