Early responses to the Government's Green Paper on special needs show growing concern. Josephine Gardiner reports
The Government has come under fire for insisting that more children with special needs should be taught in mainstream schools.
Early responses to its Green Paper show deep anxiety over the issues of inclusion, training for teachers, proposals to reduce the number of statements and the need for extra cash to fund the plans.
The National Union of Teachers warns the Government not to be dogmatic about inclusive education, saying that individual needs must not be sacrificed to principle. It says there is a danger that local authorities will assume inclusion is a requirement, regardless of the consequences.
Nor should the Government be making generalised assumptions about different types of provision - special schools are often very successful with children with moderate learning difficulties.
In its response to the paper Excellence for all children, the union says that the proposal to oblige local authorities to find a mainstream placement for disabled pupils or those with moderate learning difficulties if their parents want it is a "mechanistic approach to inclusion".
The Government must "be very careful that in promoting inclusion it does not elevate structures above standards", it said.
The NUT also argues for better pay and conditions for special needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) and asks the Government to recognise that any increase in the numbers of disabled children in mainstream schools will mean a huge increase in co-ordinators' workloads. Their salaries, the NUT says, should reflect this.
One of the union's main fears is that the Government will force teachers to include ever-increasing numbers of children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. The NUT criticises the Green Paper for failing to appreciate just how difficult such children are to teach. "There is a temptation for those who have never taught children with challenging behaviour to make proposals which appear to work on paper but which fail in practice. For the teacher in the classroom, who may watch a well-planned lesson disintegrate in front of his or her eyes because of the behaviour of a small number of pupils, paper strategies are useless."
It also says that the paper fails to distinguish between children diagnosed as having EBD and those who are simply badly behaved.
Last month, Labour MP Gerry Steinberg echoed the NUT's fears when he told a Commons education select committee that "we could go too far in inclusion, so that it becomes a mantra. Speaking from experience as a head, there are clearly some children who couldn't take the mainstream".
Estelle Morris the minister in charge of special needs, agreed. "Inclusion is not being seen as a staging post for total inclusion," she said.
But she added that special schools were too isolated. "Their expertise is locked up. We must be able to use their expertise in mainstream schools. They should become specialist schools for SEN, not special schools."
Don Foster, the Lib Dem education spokesman, and Labour MP Charlotte Atkins both drew attention to the need for more training in the identification of special needs. Ms Morris said the new national curriculum for teacher training included a requirement for students to become familiar with the Code of Practice.