League tables elbow out special needs;Dalton's Diary;Briefing;Governors

24th April 1998 at 01:00
There have been some dirty tricks played on schools. Take local management of schools. We were to manage our own budgets, decide how many staff to employ, which services to buy in from the local authority, what learning resources we needed, what improvements to make to our buildings and grounds.

Successive chancellors then slashed the amount of money available, damaging schools,limiting resources, reducing staffing levels, increasing class sizes and devastating local authority services which none of us could afford to buy.

The introduction of the national curriculum was another blow, particularly to primary schools. We were told in elaborate, prescriptive and time-consuming detail that we must teach all 10 subjects that would all receive equal attention when inspected. Then league tables were introduced measuring success by performance in maths, English and science - and teachers were castigated for failing to equip children with basic skills.

Now a new Catch 22 is appearing. On the one hand we are to contribute to national targets on literacy and numeracy. League tables based on our key stage 2 results set school against school on a very narrow and arbitrary measure. But at the same time, the Green Paper on special needs, Excellence for all Children, tells us that we must aim to integrate more special-needs children into mainstream school.

My school is committed to the principle of including special-needs children. We believe they and their parents have a right, if at all possible, to chose the same school as their siblings and their neighbours. We are often frustrated by bureaucracy and paper work, and by difficulties in getting proper levels of ancillary support and expert help; but it is worth it to see our SEN children make progress and their classmates learn respect and tolerance.

The problem is that with an intake of about 30 children a year, each special-needs child represents 3 per cent of a cohort who have sat national tests and will show in our headline league-table figures as having failed to reach level 4.

We were recently approached by the parents of a child from the catchment area of a neighbouring school. They had heard how well we integrated and supported special-needs children and wanted to send their statemented daughter to us when she starts school next year.

We should be delighted that we have such a good reputation. We are. Honestly. But what we have to consider is that this child is what is known in footballingparlance as a six-pointer: our national test results will be decreased and our rival school's score correspondingly increasedif she comes to us and not to them. This will not stop us assessing the parents' application on its merits, but it does rankle.

Wouldn't it be a comparatively simple adjustment if any child who is disapplied from having to take national tests were excluded from the figures? Then our school - and many others - could stop worrying about their targets and concentrate on what they do best: helping all children achieve the best they can.

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