It's time to take a fresh look at SEN

7th July 2006 at 01:00
The commons education select committee's harsh critique of government special needs policies comes the same week as a shocking report revealing "widespread institutional abuse" of learning disabled adults in care homes in Cornwall. Is this a coincidence? Not really. Both reports show that we live in a society which is seriously letting down its most vulnerable people, and where families of both adults and children with special needs find themselves embroiled in lengthy battles to procure decent services. As select committee chairman Barry Sheerman said, meeting their needs "should be the hallmark of a successful education system and a civilised society".

In their report, MPs condemned the postcode lottery determining which pupils get appropriate help, the "punitive approach of expelling children with SEN", and conflicting advice to local authorities about closing special schools.

The principle that any school, local authority or country should be judged by the way it treats those who are most vulnerable has often been reiterated by ministers and many others. The select committee's forthright report has tried to pin that idea firmly down and to make the Government accept responsibility for living by it. It condemns the special needs system as "not fit for purpose" and highlights the "inbuilt conflict of interest" in having local authorities both assess children's needs and provide services with limited resources.

The MPs have exposed the Government's contradictory messages - above all when it comes to standards versus inclusion. Ministers insist that the achievement agenda and the Every Child Matters agenda should be mutually beneficial, a sentiment The TES has supported. But the select committee is right to point an accusing finger at the Education and Inspection Bill when it concludes that "the standards agenda still remains the much greater priority for the Government. It is the standards agenda, not SEN, that is at the heart of the existing personalisation agenda".

The committee calls for a "completely fresh look at SEN", noting that while the Government says it does not want a major review, "it does seem to be re-considering its policy in private" (another contradiction). Time to bring it out in the open.

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