Parents and professionals want to keep needs system, reports Nicola Porter
Legally binding statements which set out provision for children with the most difficult special needs should stay despite their flaws, according to a new poll.
Around 65 per cent of parents and professionals polled on behalf of the Assembly's education and lifelong learning committee said statements were needed. Only 10 per cent wanted them scrapped.
The committee has previously taken evidence from teachers and other professionals who have attacked statements as costly, time-consuming and unfair.
Members of the committee met last week to discuss the questionnaire findings and decide on recommendations as part of a policy review on special educational needs (SEN). They reported last year on early identification and intervention, and have just finished taking evidence on statementing. Next year they will focus on transition issues.
Janet Ryder, Plaid Cymru's shadow education minister, said the results of the survey, based on 99 returns, came with a big "but".
She said the majority voted for the current system because they feared losing safeguards for parents if statements were scrapped.
All members of the cross-party committee agreed general unhappiness showed change must take place. Liberal Democrat Peter Black, the committee chairman, said evidence heard by members had been split between two camps - parents and professionals.
Mark Isherwood, AM for north Wales and a parent of a special-needs child, said: "We need safety nets. However, if a system is working well it will gradually reduce the numbers using that cushion - that should be the aim."
William Graham, Conservative education spokesman, said: "I was amazed by the distrust parents had of local authorities."
Professionals who gave evidence argued that the litigation-littered statementing process worked in favour of "pushy" parents to the detriment of others. But parents, represented by the Special Needs Advisory Project Cymru argued children's needs would not be met without statements.
Total expenditure on SEN provision in Wales for 2005-6 is pound;261 million, 7 per cent higher than the previous year. Of that money, 43 per cent is held centrally by local education authorities.
Options for making the system more viable include ring-fencing money from central funds, direct funding to school clusters or individual schools, and a national needs-based formula for SEN.
Janet Ryder called for special-needs funding to come under one education umbrella. But David Melding, Conservative AM for south Wales central, said this would probably be resisted.
* One in four children will have some special or additional needs during their school life.
* In January 2005, 3.3 per cent of pupils had statements of SEN in Welsh schools.
* Around a quarter of all new statements in 2004 were for children under five.
* Three-quarters of children with statements are educated in mainstream schools.
* The proportion of pupils awarded statements ranges from 1.6 to 5.1 per cent among the 22 Welsh local education authorities.