Outcry over Becta plans

7th July 2006 at 01:00
The decision by the British Educational Communications Agency (Becta) to disband its special educational needsinclusion team has prompted members of the SEN community to lobby Parliament in an attempt to persuade Becta to reconsider its strategy.

The reorganisation means that members of the SENinclusion team are now part of four new directorates, with a remit to promote inclusion within each directorate. Chris Stevens, former head of the team, is now senior manager for inclusion, with a co-ordinating role in Becta.

Christine Vincent, Becta's director of teaching and learning directorate, says the changes are the result of Becta adopting a more strategic role in supporting the Government's e-strategy.

The meeting was organised by Jeff Hughes, secretary of the special needs user group, and took place at the House of Commons on June 19. It was attended by MPs Simon Burns, Vincent Cable and members of Harriet Harman's office. Others present included Mr Stevens and Ms Vincent, and two SEN consultants Anne McDevitt and Lesley Rahamin, who said: "We covered many topics and made the point that the experience and expertise of the Becta SEN team was being dissipated."

Mr Stevens believes the lobby meeting was constructive: "There was a feeling of reassurance, but there is also a healthy dose of scepticism [about the change]. We'll need to monitor the situation internally and report back to people at a later date."

He adds that since he took on his new post, Becta has had meetings with Fast (foundation for assistive technology) and with publishers on developing accessible software. He says that while Becta plans to hand over the running of its inclusion website, it intends to continue supporting the SENIT and Sencos online forums.

But some practitioners feel that special needs are being pushed to the side and cite the ending of the CAP project (communications aid project), managed by Becta which provided schools and LEAs with support and resources for children with communication difficulties. "CAP was designed to support and not replace what LEAs were doing in this area. Some LEAs, such as Rochdale, Norfolk and Northampton, have built on CAP," says Mr Stevens.

AbilityNet and two former CAP centres have launched Local CAPacity, which offers LEAs similar services to CAP.

Ms Rahamin says the outcry over the changes has made Becta modify its SEN plans. But practitioners will be watching the impact of the reorganisation. "We remain hopeful but vigilant," says Ms McDevitt.


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