All teachers should be trained to spot and help children with special needs according to a study by the Welsh Assembly. Dorothy Lepkowska report
Newly-qualified teachers in Wales should receive better training in special needs under a radical overhaul of special needs services in the principality. A wide-ranging study carried out by the Welsh Assembly wants initial teacher training to include identification and teaching techniques for special needs as standard.
It has also recommended that the General Teaching Council for Wales develops guidance for continuing professional development so teachers keep abreast of developments. And it says every school should have a designated teacher trained in the identification of children with special needs, who can, in turn, train colleagues.
The report, Policy Review of Special Educational Needs, Part 1: early identification and intervention, will be followed next year by two studies looking at statementing and the transition of special needs pupils through education.
The report advocates greater multi-agency working and joint planning between teachers, specialist therapists, health professionals, local authorities, local health boards and social services. Agencies should work with the family, and there should be better information-sharing.
Peter Black, chair of the Welsh Assembly's education and lifelong learning committee, stressed the importance of early identification of children with special needs. "There are many examples of excellent practice in Wales," he said. "However, we also know that some children do not receive appropriate support due to late diagnosis.
"In some instances, they are never properly identified, leading to unfulfilled potential and a blight on young lives."
According to the Welsh schools inspectorate, Estyn, an estimated one child in four will have a special or additional need at some time in their school life.
As of January 2004, 3.3 per cent of pupils (16,959) on school rolls in Wales had statements; this ranged from 1.6 per cent in Bridgend to 4.9 per cent in Newport. Three-quarters of these children were being educated in mainstream schools.
The report, which is based on a consultation with schools, parents, education and health professionals, and other interested groups, said the Welsh Assembly should commission a review of the formulae used to allocate special needs funding to local authorities based on an audit of need. More money should be spent on training and recruiting specialists, including support staff who could help get the most out of therapists and specialist teachers.
The report found that local authorities should establish a one-stop-shop where parents could obtain advice. The information "should be current, easy to understand and available bilingually, and in minority languages where appropriate".
However, there were concerns over a lack of staff able to provide support in languages other than English.
The report is being considered by Jane Davidson, the Education Minister, and she will make a detailed response in the next couple of weeks.
In a separate initiative, Davidson this week announced the establishment, from April 2005, of pilot projects across Wales to plan and commission services for children and young people with speech, language and communication difficulties.
"The pilots will bring together teams of speech and language therapists, specialist teachers and learning support assistants to share their skills," she said.
The report can be found at www.wales.gov.ukkeypubdocumentsindex.htm