CONSULTATIONS on post-16 special needs are to be held this month in Glasgow, Dundee and Inverness. It will be the last chance for the public and professionals to influence the recommendations of the Beattie committee, set up last April by the Scottish Office.
Robert Beattie, the committee's chairman, expects it to come up with "practical, pragmatic and affordable recommendations". Some of these will go for decision to the newly formed Scottish Further Education Funding Council - of which he has been appointed chairman (left).
Mr Beattie said the report would be "peppered with case studies so it will hopefully be a living document of what is happening on the ground".
The committee's remit is to look at the range of further education and training needs and at the effectiveness of what is available in improving skills and preparation for work. It is playing a central role in the Government's social inclusion agenda and as well as mental, physical, social and behavioural needs it will champion the "disenfranchised".
Despite its post-school remit, the committee has taken 14-plus as its starting point, "because that is when schools start to lose many of their pupils".
The key issues are guidance and support for special needs youngsters as they move from school to college, training or a job, improved assessment procedures, better co-ordination of existing provision and improvements to current arrangements.
The committee reflects Mr Beattie's own preoccupation with having a "joined-up" Scotland in which the public, private and voluntary sectors make a combined contribution. Membership covers academics, educationists, training expertise, psychologists, social workers, careers officers and business interests.
As someone who freely admits to having been a psychiatric in-patient, Mr Beattie said mental problems in particular were about perceptions, as were disabilities generally.
"You can see a broken arm but not a broken mind," he says. "It is relatively easy to put in ramps for wheelchairs but someone who presents mental problems or chaotic behaviour is a very different matter."
Mr Beattie says it probably came as a surprise to some members of the committee that "people with special needs don't necessarily have special aspirations. They have the same desires as everyone else. They want a job, a house, a car. People are people. Some of them just look a bit different."
He is in no doubt, however, that the committee's task amounts to nothing less than "turning round a culture - which probably takes 20 to 30 years".