Special needs figures do not add up

26th May 1995 at 01:00
Peter Bibby ("Nasty bumps on the statement thresholds", TES School Management Update, May 12) has assembled an impressive table of figures to support his arguments about resource allocation for special educational needs. Regrettably, these figures do not add up to anything. It would need more words than the original article to explain in detail exactly why this is so; but the main problem with his thesis is a misunderstanding of Standard Spending Assessments.

The article assumes first that SSAs are a reliable indicator of what ought to be spent by an individual education authority, and second that the additional educational needs index within SSA relates solely to school-level expenditure on children with SEN.

Neither of these propositions is true. When these figures are set alongside data from LEA Section 42 statements, which for technical reasons are never strictly comparable between authorities, the resulting calculations are meaningless.

This is sad, because his intuitive point about variations in the level of support available for individual children across the country has some validity (although he entirely misses the significance of the extent to which responsibility for SEN is delegated in different LEAs). However, the manipulation of inappropriate statistics does not make any contribution to dealing with the real issues. If, magically, spending in schools was adjusted to make his figures come out neatly, the result on the ground would be far worse than the current imperfect distribution.

Peter Bibby is billed as a barrister, and there are early indications that the new SEN Tribunal is generating additional income for some of his professional colleagues. Despite Department for Education exhortations to keep proceedings informal, significant numbers of appellants are represented by counsel - pushing LEAs into extra legal expenses defending their decisions. It is ironic that the increasing tendency of parents to resort to the law has the effect of diverting an increasing proportion of the limited cash available away from children and into the pockets of lawyers.

ALAN PARKER Education officer Association of Metropolitan Authorities 35 Great Smith Street Westminster, London SW1

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