'Inconceivable' that bureaucracy surrounding special educational needs can survive, says minister
THE death sentence was effectively pronounced this week on the controversial system of recording children with the severest special educational needs.
Peter Peacock, Deputy Children and Education Minister, admitted to MSPs on Tuesday that there were "comparatively few advocates for retaining the present system". Giving evidence to the Parliament's education committee, Mr Peacock said it was "inconceivable" that the system would remain in place following the committee's special needs inquiry and the review being undertaken by the SEN advisory forum which Mr Peacock chairs.
The forum will meet again in September for an all-day session when recording issues will be the only item on the agenda.
But, while the committee's inquiry has heard near-unanimous criticism of the recording process as bureaucratic and tokenistic, there is less clarity about what should take its place. Mr Peacock said some procedure would have to be found to ensure that, in a universal system of education, the needs of pupils with the profoundest learning difficulties were not lost but did not become tied up in a bureaucratic process either.
He also told the committee he had "an open mind" on whether there should be a right of appeal for parents, such as an independent tribunal, to settle disputes with education authorities about placements. At present a parent can appeal to ministers against a council's failure to open a record of needs but not against the placement itself, other than to a sheriff.
An outspoken attack on the "corruption" of the recording process was made last week by Fred Forrester, honorary chairman of the Forum on Scottish Eduction, who called for the "wholesale replacement" of records of needs by an individual educational programme (IEP) which would be available to every pupil.
Mr Forrester, former depute general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland, said the record, which is an assessment of only the most severely impaired pupils and an outline of how authorities plan to meet their needs, had become associated with resources "which has corrupted the whole process".
He added: "Teachers use it to get additional resources for their school and that then meets resistance from the education authority."
Mr Forrester cited the case of Glasgow which does not allow any record to be opened for young people with emotional or behavioural difficulties, because the authority feels schools should handle EBD pupils as they do others.
A strong attack on records of needs also came from Laura Morrison, project co-ordinator with the Inclusion Group which promotes the involvement of the disabled in all fields. She said the records were "not worth the paper they're written on and children's rights just get trampled on".
The education committee, which is now considering its report, is likely to make particularly strong recommendations on the rights of parents of special needs children. MSPs heard evidence that they were often kept at arm's length by professionals.
Mr Peacock said this week that, while the Enquire national helpline on SEN - which has already handled 600 calls - should improve matters, advocacy and mediation services for parents were also necessary.
A survey by Enquire revealed that 40 per cent of parents reported poor relationships with professionals and 24 per cent had had disagreements.
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