League tables: the enemy of inclusion?

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
Jon Slater on moves to encourage the admission of special needs pupils

Reform of league tables will be part of a drive to boost achievements of children with special needs, Charles Clarke will announce next month.

The Education Secretary fears that league tables are hampering inclusion by discouraging schools from taking pupils with special needs and that they are seen as peripheral in too many schools.

He hopes that focusing on such pupils can boost national literacy and numeracy scores which have stalled, and GCSE results.

A consultation later this year will suggest that value-added tables should be changed to reflect the progress of pupils even if they fail to reach the expected test levels. Tables for school-leavers may also be expanded to include lower-level qualifications in an effort to recognise the achievement of pupils with special needs.

The strategy, to be launched by Mr Clarke on February 11, is the most determined attempt yet by the Government to make special needs part of the mainstream. It follows criticism of the Government's approach by the Audit Commission, the public-spending watchdog. Ministers have asked David Bell, the chief inspector, to report on progress.

Inclusion means that all teachers must be equipped to teach special needs pupils and that special and mainstream schools should work in partnership to provide support, the strategy will say.

It also says teachers may be guilty of "unconscious or conscious stereotyping" in labelling ethnic-minority children as having special needs. More than 20 per cent of black children and more than a third of GypsyRoma and Irish Traveller children are classified as special needs compared to 15 per cent of whites.

"Some have argued that there is a conflict between the Government's school improvement and inclusion agendas. The reverse is true. Helping children with SEN to achieve is fundamental to sustaining improvements in schools'

performance," the report will say.

Currently, only one in seven pupils with special needs and one in 20 with statements gets five Cs or better at GCSE.

More newly-qualified teachers will be encouraged to take up placements in successful special schools, a new cadre of advanced skills teachers expert in special needs will act as "change champions" and golden hellos will encourage staff to switch to the special sector. The strategy also aims to reduce the number of pupil statements.

Richard Rieser, director of Disability Equality in Education, said: "The strategy will be welcomed by those who support inclusion."

But John Wright, spokesman for the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice said the strategy failed to recognise that the reason many parents of speical needs children felt frustrated with the current system was that too many had to fight for help.

The February edition of TES Extra for Special Needs will include a full report on the SEN Action Programme. For subscription queries call 0870 444 8627

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