Statements 'a struggle'
Nicola Porter and Karen Thornton report
Some of the neediest children are not getting statements of special education needs, according to teachers. And schools are struggling to find the resources to cater for every pupil across a wide range of special needs, Assembly members have been told.
Meinir Rees, the UK's secondary SEN teacher of the year (see below) was among a panel of Welsh special educational needs co-ordinators (SENCOs) appearing before the Assembly's education committee last week.
The committee is reviewing the use of statements - legally binding documents which set out the additional teaching support needed to educate children with the most complex learning needs.
The SENCOs told committee members that the pupils of parents who "shouted the loudest" were more likely to be awarded statements. They also highlighted the time taken to process statements - six to nine months - and the resulting paperwork.
Gill Coleman, SENCO and headteacher of Williamstown primary school, Rhondda Cynon Taf, said local authorities' fear of litigation meant parental pressure had become one of the top priorities in deciding statements. She said her school was committed to catering for every special need, including pupils who were able and talented, and called for schools to work together in clusters to save money and share good practice.
The head, whose son has Asperger's Syndrome, added: "Someone has to be brave enough to take a decision on which child is most in need."
Meinir Rees, SENCO at Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr, in Cardiff, said it was harder to cater for special needs in the Welsh-medium sector. She said her school was still waiting for resources to support a visually-impaired Year 7 pupil, pending completion of the statementing process, which could take six to nine months.
The school needs pound;28,000 to provide individual computer monitors in visually-impaired pupils' classrooms, so they can follow work being presented and set by teachers on whiteboards.
Speaking to TES Cymru after the hearing, she said: "I don't agree with the enormous amount of money spent on statements and the paperwork involved is very time-consuming. If we had guaranteed provision without having to go through the statementing, I would be very happy."
Nichola Jones, from Bridgend education authority, said more parents should trust schools to provide for their children's needs and there should be more interaction with parent-teacher groups. The SENCOs also recommended:
* the continuation of statementing for those who most need it;
* national benchmarks to help end a postcode lottery;
* national curriculum changes targeted at children who leave school with no qualifications;
* more special-needs training for mainstream teachers.