Tories urge special-needs reforms

2nd December 2005 at 00:00
The Conservative party would end "bureaucratic" statementing and allow pupils with special needs to be funded at the school of their choice.

A commission on special needs, set up by David Cameron, the shadow education secretary and Tory leadership contender, has recommended that statements of need be replaced by profiles.

These would give the child access to one of some 12 levels of support and funding. The funding would be attached to the child, allowing parents to use it at a mainstream or special school, in any local authority they choose.

The current statements do not offer quantifiable levels of support.

Instead, after an assessment by local authority specialists, a child will be given a statement with a series of recommendations.

These can be detailed, such as two hours of speech therapy a week, or vague, leaving the school to decide what is required.

Labour has championed the integration of special-needs pupils into mainstream schools, leading to the closure of 93 special schools since 1997.

The commission, chaired by Sir Bob Balchin, called for a moratorium on the closure of special schools and an urgent review of the entire system for teaching children with learning difficulties in England.

Sir Bob said: "The statementing process is expensive and drawn-out. We want to put these things right. A huge number of special schools have closed for ideological rather than educational reasons. We want much greater flexibility."

Mr Cameron struggled to arrange a place for his three-year-old son, who has epilepsy and cerebral palsy, at a special school. He said: "Parents of children with special needs know only too well the constant battles they have to fight to gain the support their child requires.

"The commission has rightly highlighted the added stress caused by the current statementing process, which is costly and takes far too long."

Lorraine Peterson of the National Association for Special Educational Needs said: "The statementing process does need to be looked at. There has to be some consistency across the country, so that all children get a fair chance."

Neil Clark, head of Treloars special school, in Alton, Hampshire, welcomed the findings. "Statementing is a lengthy, bureaucratic process. Any parent I've met would love to see the system streamlined. There's a huge amount of expertise in special schools. We shouldn't sacrifice that on the altar of inclusion."

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