Estyn could have special-needs role

17th June 2005 at 01:00
Estyn inspectors could be called in to help resolve disputes between parents and local authorities over how children with special needs should be educated.

Meanwhile, the children's commissioner Peter Clarke is calling for children to be given the right to make their own appeals against decisions about their statements.

Jane Davidson, education and lifelong learning minister, told the Assembly's education committee that she may use inspection agency Estyn to investigate disputes before parents appealed to the special-needs tribunal.

Appeals in Wales about statements - the legally-binding documents setting out provision for children with the most complex special needs - fell from 139 to 117 in 2003-4.

But Ms Davidson's suggestion was welcomed by the president of the SEN tribunal in Wales, which was set up in 2003.

Rhiannon Ellis Walker told committee members: "I think that would be an excellent idea. For local education authorities to have support and training from Estyn would be most appropriate."

She said it was not acceptable for communication to break down between LEAs and parents.

But Mrs Walker was less positive about Mr Clarke's proposal that over-12s should be allowed to make appeals. She said: "I do not feel it would be productive for a child to hear all the proceedings as that sort of labelling can be unhealthy."

Parents can appeal decisions made about their children's statements at SEN tribunal hearings, but children have no say in the process. Mr Clarke is calling for that to change, with children also being able to listen to evidence presented during the proceedings.

Mrs Walker told the Assembly that, in a perfect world, statements would not be needed and provision would not vary as much as it does between LEAs.

A recent report by the Association of Directors of Education in Wales (ADEW) called for an end to statements for SEN pupils with no additional health needs, to save resources. In 20034, the Welsh SEN tribunal, based in Llandrindod Wells, received 128 cases, and proceeded with 117 - a slight drop from the previous year.

Most of the appeals were over the awarding of statements, and cases ranged from pupils with emotional and behavioural problems to speech and language difficulties, and pupils with dyspraxia and autism.

More than 70 per cent concerned boys, and the single largest number of appeals (35) involved Cardiff council.

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