Labour slow to deliver special needs reforms

11th August 2000 at 01:00
THE Government has missed its own deadlines for improving schooling for the most needy and vulnerable children.

A new code of practice on special educational needs will not be brought in until autumn 2001, a year behind schedule. Major reports on key services such as educational psychology and speech and language therapy will also be released a year late, The TES has learned.

Plans for a new Bill ensuring civil rights for disabled youngsters have been delayed. Sure Start, the scheme that supports deprived families with pre school children, took off slowly, with only 5 per cent of funds spent in the first year.

And proposed regulatory reforms, including strengthening the rights of children to be heard at special needs tribunals and making education authorities publish more information about their policies, have still to be implemented.

Other pledges have been delivered on time: new advice has been issued to teachers on applying the literacy and numeracy strategy to special needs pupils; regional projects have been set up looking at the co-ordination of services; and initial training for teaching assistants now includes a special needs module.

Ministers have also increased funding to make schools more accessible to the disabled; invested in projects integrating special needs children into mainstream schols; and legislated to allow joint projects between the National Health Service and local authorities.

A Department for Education and Employment spokesman said "substantial progress" had been made on the special needs action programme, published in 1998.

Teachers' unions and the special needs lobby say ministers have beeen overwhelmed by the size of their reform programme.

A spokeswoman for the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, said: "Many members tell us it is special needs they have the most frustrations with. They need educational psychologists, they need specialist support, they need statementing to be speeded up.

"Ministers raise expectations and then are criticised for things which at the core are very good but that they are failing to deliver, because there is so much they are trying to do at once."

Mike Gordon, executive secretary of the National Association for Special Educational Needs, added: "The good intentions to legislate and improve practice are there. But there's been a naivety about the timetable."

However, Brian Lamb, chairman of the Special Education Consortium, an umbrella organisation representing many of the sector's interest groups, said he was pleased that most of the Government's agenda was underway, despite the delays.

News, 6

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