THE existence of separate special schools is almost certain to feature prominently in the first major education inquiry carried out by the Scottish Parliament's education, culture and sport committee.
Ian Welsh, the Ayr MSP leading the investigation into special needs, expects the big issues such as full inclusion in mainstream schools to be a priority.
Mr Welsh was commenting after a conference in the capital last week called for the abolition of "segregated" schools and the transfer of expertise and resources to the mainstream. An emerging pressure group, Equity, argues it is a basic human right for all pupils to be educated at their local school.
Support for greater inclusion is gaining ground among key figures, including Mr Welsh, a former secondary depute head and ex-leader of South Ayrshire, whose son has special needs. But he adds: "We need to win the hearts and minds of people, not least those people with children of special needs who value separate school provision."
Sheila Riddell, the Glasgow University professor who chaired a recent government inquiry into severe low incidence disabilities, said: "Placement in mainstream school close to home should be the preferred option for all children with SEN. There are many barriers, both physical and attitudinal, to such placements and these should be tackled. This implies a transfer of resources from special to mainstream and bridging funding from the Scottish Executive may be needed."
Danny McCafferty, the local authorities' education spokesman, said the move could be made but parents would have to be convinced that children would benefit. Fred Forrester, depute general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, warned of "grave dangers of the individual child being overlooked".
Abolition call, page 5
Leader, page 12