Excluded by white paper

11th November 2005 at 00:00
As ministers' plans for special needs pupils come under fire The TES looks at how they are educated in other countries.

The system of independent state schools envisaged in the Government's latest set of education reforms will leave pupils with special needs out in the cold, campaigners fear.

Special needs is one of the most contentious areas in education, but last month's long-awaited white paper made comparatively few references to it, to the anger of teachers, parents and campaigning groups.

Some argue that the problems caused by the push to educate special needs pupils in mainstream schools have been ignored. Even supporters of inclusion believe greater school autonomy and a changed role for local authorities is likely to lead to fewer resources.

The white paper is unclear if special schools can become self-governing trusts: "Trust status for special schools raises a number of complex issues, and we will continue to work with schools to decide the best way forward."

Sean O'Sullivan, deputy head of Frank Wise special school, in Oxfordshire, said: "There's a move away from one-size-fits-all for schools. But it seems that special schools are being told, for you lot, one size does fit all.

"Most of the white paper seems to relate to the mainstream set-up. Special needs have been marginalised, and left as a forgotten add-on. It's not good enough."

The white paper reiterates the Government's commitment to inclusion. It says SEN pupils will continue to get priority in school admissions and that schools will receive advice on supporting them. It also outlines a plan to designate 50 new SEN specialist schools within two years and wants more collaboration between special and mainstream schools.

But contributors to The TES online staffroom are not happy. One parent wrote: "My 16-year-old son has Asperger's syndrome. Last year, he tried to commit suicide, because he was forced to attend a mainstream school. The education system has failed him."

Many teachers said they felt their pupils have been ignored. "I fear not one second's thought has been given to our children," wrote one. "The present system leaves our children suicidal and self-harming. What our children need is specialist provision."

Richard Reiser, director of Disability Equality in Education, said: "Introducing choice means that schools will select the children they think can deliver the highest results with the least expenditure. This will lead to increased inequality, and more segregation and discrimination. If you're going to have a more open system, you need more checks and balances. It's not been thought through."

Brian Lamb, of the Special Education Consortium, thinks that giving schools increased control over their budgets may lead to cuts. "There will be severe pressure on specialist support services, particularly for visually impaired and hard-of-hearing pupils," he said. "If these pupils don't get the support they need, they won't survive in the mainstream."

Another voice 26

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