Special needs strategy in trouble

13th February 2004 at 00:00
A strategy to raise the achievement of special needs pupils was launched this week amid complaints from a charity which offers advice to parents.

The Independent Panel for Special Education Advice said the strategy Removing Barriers to Achievement did nothing to address the "commonplace, chronic, deliberate law-breaking on the part of local authorities".

IPSEA accuses five councils of breaking the law by operating policies which deny children support they are legally entitled to.

As The TES revealed last month, league table reform will be part of a drive to put the one in six children who have special needs at the heart of the Government's standards crusade.

Public consultation to be launched later this year will ask if value-added tables should be changed to reflect pupils' progress even if they fail to reach the expected test level. Ministers hope this will end some schools' reluctance to accept special needs pupils.

They also hope that improvements in the education of pupils with SEN will help kick start the stalled improvements in test scores.

Only one in seven pupils with special needs and one in 20 with statements gains five or more A*-C GCSEs. Under the plan, increasing numbers of pupils with special needs will be educated in mainstream schools.

Special schools would become centres of excellence, educating small numbers of children and providing support to mainstream neighbours.

The report also calls for greater movement of staff and pupils between mainstream and special sectors to share good practice and ensure children's needs are met.

Inclusion means that all teachers must be equipped to teach SEN pupils and that special and mainstream schools should work together to provide support, it says.

Almost 94,000 children are educated in special schools. Two-thirds are boys and only 2,000 also attend mainstream schools.

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, said: "There is too much variation in provision for children with SEN in different parts of the country. This situation where children face real barriers to learning and parents lack confidence in the commitment and capacity of our schools to meet their child's needs cannot be allowed to continue."

IPSEA has written to Mr Clarke to complain about five local education authorities - Essex, East Sussex and the London boroughs of Barnet, Hackney and Islington - which, it claims, have acted unreasonably and failed to fulfil their duty to special needs children. All five deny the charge.

John Wright, IPSEA spokesman, said that the Government's plan failed to recognise the need for an independent agency to enforce the law.

"Whether a child's needs are met depends upon their individual parent or carer being able to police their local authority. It is inevitable that children of less advantaged parents are less likely to receive the provision their needs call for," he said.

The strategy received a cautious welcome from teachers' unions. John Bangs, National Union of Teachers' head of education and equal opportunities, said: "Charles Clarke is right about the need for a role for special schools in supporting pupils in the mainstream.

"The problem is funding. The distribution of SEN money to schools is patchy and uneven and the pressure on councils to delegate money to schools will only make matters worse."

The report is available at www.dfes.gov.uksen

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