Promise of cash to sweeten the pill for councils
In a debate during the first stage of the Additional Support for Learning Bill, Peter Peacock bowed to pressure from local authorities by finding yet another pot of new money to help implement an entirely new system of support for children who have most difficulties with school.
The Convention of Scottish Local Authorities immediately changed its confrontational stance by welcoming the response. "It is very positive to see the Scottish Executive listening to its stakeholders and taking on board their views," Ewan Aitken, its education spokesman, said.
But some MSPs remain concerned about the far-reaching reform which scraps SEN provision and replaces records of need with co-ordinated support plans (CSPs). Fiona Hyslop, SNP shadow education minister, said she feared the Bill would introduce a much wider and more fundamental duty to provide for all children who need some support, not just those with the most acute needs.
"The problem is what resources will there be if there is a fundamental change? So much will depend on the general duties of local authorities," Ms Hyslop said.
In his address, Mr Peacock made it clear that the changes in SEN legislation stemmed from parliamentary recommendations back in 2001 and a public consultation. Education had moved on considerably since the legislation was introduced 20 years ago.
He did not apologise for ensuring that the children with most extensive needs are protected. "But it is important not to lose sight of the provisions the Bill makes for the wider school population. The significance of this Bill is that it introduces a new duty on education authorities to identify the additional support needs of all children for whom they are responsible," Mr Peacock said.
"Once identified, these needs must be addressed. Once addressed, the adequacy of the provision made for them must be kept under review."
He again assured MSPs that no children with a current record of need would be disadvantaged in the transition. Lord James Douglas-Hamilton, the Tories' education spokesman, feared the switch from records could antagonise thousands of parents and leave them with no legal document to argue for more provision.
Mr Peacock has pledged to make a number of changes to the Bill during the line by line scrutiny and spell out precisely how he intends the legislation to work in a detailed code of practice. MSPs remain concerned about the new system of mediation and independent tribunals which will settle disputes between parents and local authorities.