THE new presumption in favour of mainstream education for SEN children was an important step forward, Bryan Kirkaldy said. But while it was necessary, it was not sufficient. "There is a danger that we could develop higher expectations among families that schools and authorities cannot deliver."
Ian Liddle, principal psychologist in Stirling and current chair of the psychologists' association, admitted there was "some way to go" in making mainstream teachers comfortable with special needs pupils. But the Executive's pound;12 million earmarked for the purpose was a help.
Joan Fraser, head of the Executive's pupil support division, acknowledged teachers would need more support and this was being considered as part of continuous professional development.
Mr Kirkaldy said he had reservations about mainstreaming being included as an isolated item in the education Bill without the other changes he outlined.
He drew a clear distinction between "integration" and "inclusion", suggesting: "Integration, which assumes all pupils are in the local school, is not tenable. There should be a layered approach moving out from the local school to local authority prvision to provision outwith the authority."
This impressed MSPs who have reservations about the Executive's approach. "I could live with that definition," Brian Monteith, Tory education spokesman, said afterwards.
Ms Fraser described the mainstream presumption as "a framework against which decisions can be taken on the best possible outcome for each individual child with special educational needs".
Mike Gibson, HMI with responsibility for special education, said inclusion would cover a range of provision from full mainstream learning to youngsters who might spend between a third and two-thirds of their time in a unit attached to a mainstream school.
Ms Fraser confirmed that the special needs advisory forum, which has been set up under the chairmanship of Peter Peacock, Deputy Children and Education Minister, would be reviewing the length of the school day in special schools. Most special schools operate a 22.5-hour week, five hours less than secondary schools.
Mr Gibson said the difference was the equivalent of 1.5 Standard grades, "so it has significant implications for the quality of education special schools can offer".