In the child's best interest

11th March 2005 at 00:00
I must take issue with Michael Russell's ill-informed comments regarding inclusion, special needs, parental views and the role of local authorities.

I take great offence at the picture Mr Russell presents both of local authorities and their education officials. Decisions made regarding the placement of special needs pupils are only arrived at as a result of a comprehensive multi-agency assessment in which parents and carers participate fully. Within that process, educational professionals and officials work hard to arrive at an agreed outcome. Where this is not possible, parents are encouraged to use the formal processes available to them to seek a resolution that they feel to be in their child's best interests.

North Lanarkshire Council certainly does not operate a blanket inclusion strategy. The council has a full and wide range of special educational provision, not least in the area of autism, much of which has been expanded and further developed over the period of the council. This continuum of provision allows the council to make choices based on individual pupil need and parental preference where this is appropriate.

Given the quality, range and availability of our own provision, it is entirely legitimate for the council to formally offer its own provision where it matches the identified needs of the pupil concerned. This is no less inclusive than maintaining a youngster in a mainstream setting. In both situations, the sole aim is to meet a pupil's individual special needs in as local a context as possible.

Where I do agree with Michael Russell is on the issue of funding. Meeting special educational needs - whether in a special or mainstream school - is never a cheap option. More money will be required from the Executive in order both to allow local authorities to meet their statutory obligations in this area and meet parental expectations which are understandably and legitimately high (as well as, despite Mr Russell's protestations, on some occasions inadequately informed and unrealistic).

The bureaucratic interference, foot-dragging, and downright obstruction of educational officials that he refers to is not something I have encountered in my years of convenership within my own council. On the contrary, I have continually been impressed and supported by the efforts of the council's education officials to expand and support our SEN provision, to meet the identified needs of individual pupils, and to engage with parents who are understandably anxious and concerned regarding what is in their child's best interests.

This is done while working within the inevitable budgetary constraints with which we must all live in the real world. Michael Russell should come and join us some time.

Charles Gray

Education convener

North Lanarkshire Council

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