Not all schools are up to implementing the Executive's inclusion policy, a leading educational psychologist and local authority policy-maker has warned.
Bryan Kirkaldy told a conference organised by Equity, the pressure group for integration in mainstream education: "Not all schools are equally capable of taking on the task ahead. We need therefore to find ways of helping and supporting them to make sure they can indeed work with the whole population of children."
Mr Kirkaldy, former chair of the Association of Scottish Principal Educational Psychologists, who is on secondment to Fife Council as a services manager, said there had to be a measure of the level of "satisfaction of the experience of school education as well as the numbers of disputes between families, schools and authorities and how they are resolved".
The 20-year-old record of need was outdated, Mr Kirkaldy said. It led to an adversarial appeals system for settling disputes, usually centring on the refusal of authorities to recognise a child's special needs. "We need to modernise that. The step forward needs to be mediation."
Mr Kirkaldy also suggested that the definition of "special educational needs" should be broad enough to encompass children in care, travellers' children, those with English as a second language and the seriously or chronically sick. "There is as whole population, too, who are disadvantaged in terms of literacy and numeracy bcause of their socio-economic background," he said.
"Individual educational planning" was the key in providing for special needs, underpinned by early intervention, as young as one or two years of age."There should be no such thing as a waiting list. Needs should be anticipated," Mr Kirkaldy argued.
Veronica Rankin, equality officer with the Educational Institute of Scotland, said resources were the key. "It is ridiculous that children in one authority cannot have the same provision as a child in another authority with the same special needs." Too often "agreed plans" between parents and the local authority were not translated into practice.
Teacher training was vital. "There should not just be one or two committed individuals in a school. This has to cut right across the staff."
Nicol Stephen, Deputy Minister for Education, reminded delegates that the Executive is allocating pound;5 million a year for staff development. It has also provided pound;12 million over two years to help improve physical access to buildings, specialist equipment and new technology, and to recruit additional staff.
Yet, according to an Italian father of two children with special needs, Scotland still has a long way to go. Enrico Barone, who lives in Glasgow, said: "Italian society is much more inclusive. People with Down's syndrome are expected by the time they leave school to be independent enough to look for jobs themselves."