Special Educational Needs: Parents and teachers hail bus that speeds up SEN services

18th September 2009 at 01:00
Overwhelming demand for special-needs assessment satisfied by mobile units with pound;94k worth of kit

Original paper headline: High-tech bus drives in to speed up SEN services

Parents and teachers fed up with waiting months for special needs assessments are turning to a mobile service in an attempt to get the right services for children.

Special school staff are taking to the road with the adapted vehicle in an attempt to satisfy the demand for quick help with disabilities or learning problems.

The bus has pound;94,000 worth of equipment designed to help pupils with communication or movement problems. Some assessments can take six months but staff on the bus can see three children a day.

The service is being run by Treloar's, an independent special school in Hampshire. The bus, part-funded by the Learning and Skills Council, has traveled around the South East and will go nationwide next year.

Department for Children, Schools and Families' research this year showed only a third of parents with disabled children had been given a formal assessment of their support needs or annual special educational needs (SEN) review.

One of the major concerns from families was the time it takes for assessment, with 14 per cent of parents paying for it to be done privately.

There are no official statistics for the length of time children wait to be assessed, but experts say electric wheelchair services can take at least six months - leaving the pupil dependent on parents or teachers for mobility.

Treloar's "technologists" and therapists review the child's needs and capabilities. The service costs pound;600 - no more than a usual assessment - and is typically funded by local authorities or health trusts.

Children are given technology to help them use the computer or speak, and are able to try out the latest wheelchairs. This allows them to spend more time in lessons.

Bob Bayley, business development director at Treloar's, said: "The Government's inclusion policy means an increasing number of disabled young people are in mainstream education.

"For these young people, access to experts is often difficult to find and hard to achieve in the necessary timeframe. We're delighted we can now reach out to pupils who are crying out for this new service."

Graham Jowett, a consultant for the scheme, said: "The cost of transport to specialist facilities for disabled students, in terms of money and time, can be very high. Any service that provides cost-effective access to experts on-site at individual schools and colleges will be welcomed."

It is estimated that 6,000 pupils with physical or learning difficulties depend on technology in the UK.

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