Special pay for special needs

24th June 2005 at 01:00
MPs plead for staff to get higher wages to take account of difficult working conditions. Michael Shaw reports

Extra pay should be given to teachers who work with children who have behavioural problems and other special needs, according to a committee of British and Irish MPs.

The British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body has called for urgent changes to the way SEN pupils are cared for in England and Northern Ireland.

Recommendations include that the Government consider higher wages to encourage more teachers and therapists to train and work with these children.

"We are of the opinion that staff - particularly at special schools who are routinely attacked, often punched and bitten - deserve to be appropriately remunerated for their more difficult working environment," the report said.

Members of the committee visited schools in the UK and Ireland to compare how they supported SEN pupils.

They found that staff in special and mainstream schools worked hard to care for the students. However, they found that schools in Northern Ireland and England were let down by a lack of resources and a statementing system that was bureaucratic and frequently led to vague diagnoses which made it difficult to help the children.

"The statementing process appears to place administration and the lack of resources available ahead of the needs of the child," MPs said. "Those who shout loudest get to the top of the queue."

The committee recommended that England and Northern Ireland follow the example of Scotland.

Scotland, which has "records of needs" instead of statements for its pupils, is intending to replace these from November 14 with "coordinated support plans". These should be less bureaucratic and result in children gettting more support. They will only be given to youngsters with more than one barrier to learning.

Other children with less serious difficulties have been promised they will get more flexible and personalised support from schools.

Concerns about special-needs pupils in England were also raised this week by David Cameron, shadow education secretary, who used a debate in the House of Commons to call on the Government to stop closing special schools.

Mr Cameron, whose three-year-old son has cerebral palsy, has said it is easier to escape from Colditz than to get a child a special school place.

"Children with learning difficulties or disabilities deserve better than to have their real needs waved away because of their totemic status as representatives of social inclusion," he said.

"These are our children, not guinea pigs in some social experiment."

Mr Cameron said failures of the current approach to inclusion were illustrated by the fact that two thirds of exclusions involved children with special needs and that one in five pupils with autism were permanently excluded and never returned to schools.

The Department for Education and Skills is carrying out an audit to see how it can improve support for SEN pupils, but it will only examine the help for those with the most severe difficulties.

* One family which succeeded in getting their 14-year-old daughter into a special boarding school revealed this week that it was suing Hertfordshire council for pound;500,000 for educational negligence.The mother told The Sun newspaper that the authority had failed to safeguard her daughter's welfare. The girl, who was placed in a room next to a 15-year-old boy, became pregnant.

Special needs provision in Britain and Ireland can be accessed at www.biipb.org

* michael.shaw@tes.co.uk

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