MSPs find their feet

10th March 2000 at 00:00
A NATURAL and desirable result of devolution is a parliamentary focus on areas that rarely if ever came before the legislators. So last week there was a full debate on the place of Gaelic, especially in education, and MSPs (well, two of them as native speakers) were able to use a language which would have had the Speaker of the Commons shouting "Order!" in her most peremptory tone. The fact that the debate took place was of more significance than what was said, but there will no doubt be other opportunities.

Special education is another area to come under the spotlight, this time of the education, culture and sport committee, whose first major inquiry it will be (leaving aside emergency probing of Hampden Park and Scottish Opera).

The commentary on the Standards in Scotland's Schools Bill, which the committee will soon consider in detail, deals with special needs and makes a presumption in favour of

"a school other than a special school". Also significant as background to the inquiry are the Riddell and Beattie report, which concern different aspects of special needs and different age-groups.

Evidence coming before MSPs suggests (page six) that a principal concern will be parent rights. It is easy to become beguiled by the notion of inclusive education, which begs a range of questions, including applicability to individual needs, practical implications and interpretation by parents inexpert in the field but dedicated to their child's welfare. Local authorities in particular are concerned about resources available and perhaps more seriously, high-

profile conflicts with parents that could end in the courts.

MSPs will also have to consider the future of special schools, despite the Executive's "presumption". They continue to have a role but need enough pupils to be viable. Janet Allan, principal of Donaldson's College, wrote in The TES Scotland last month of how deaf children found a community of interest in a school specifically for them. Parents should not be discouraged from opting for special and specialist provision.

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