End denial of special needs

24th October 2003 at 01:00
Growing numbers of appeals to special needs tribunals are just one symptom of our chronic failure to provide for children with learning difficulties (page 18). In spite of legislation to increase inclusion, nine out of 10 children permanently excluded from primary schools, and six out of 10 from secondaries, have special needs.

The lack of any proper statistics in England on the nature and extent of various special needs underlines their systematic neglect. Many schools and local authorities fail to monitor the progress of children with learning difficulties or the impact of the pound;3.6 billion spent on them each year. Even those schools which do well by such children prefer to do so by stealth for fear of raising expectations or attracting pupils which reduce their standing in the league tables.

Almost two million children - one in five - are said to have special needs.

But 69 per cent of the SEN budget is devoted to the one in 30 granted a "statement" guaranteeing full assessment and extra support.

Both Ofsted and the Audit Commission have condemned the statementing procedure as unwieldy, costly and bureaucratic. But given the rising expectations that parents have been encouraged to have, it is little wonder that more and more fight for such guarantees of extra help - or that deluged authorities turn a blind eye to many claims in the hope they will go away.

What we have created is a system in denial. Successive ministers have legislated for inclusion and parental rights without providing the conditions or the resources to achieve them. Tribunals were set up to divert the increasing numbers of persuasive appeals landing on ministers'

own desks.

Another government special needs action programme is now promised. To succeed it needs to move us from a system designed to manage and curb demand to one that meets the real needs of all children; a system of earlier and co-ordinated intervention, better training in and support with the diversity created by inclusion and a culture that acknowledges all special needs and works with parents to overcome them.

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