Weaving a safety net
Like a spider in a web, the Government's action programme for special needs spins a lot of interlinking threads. Those seeking a definitive statement of how the Government plans to implement the proposals outlined in last year's Green Paper will not find it here. Too many key elements - such as the revision of the code of practice - are subject to further proposals, consultations, pilots and reviews over the next two years.
What the action programme does set out is a timetable (see left) during which all those reports will fall into place, in line with the Green Paper's themes - greater inclusion of children with special needs, and a reduction in statementing and associated red tape.
Schools minister Estelle Morris's unequivocal pledge to retain the legal protections and parental rights associated with statements has been welcomed by voluntary organisations.
But her measure of the programme's success will be if fewer parents seek statements because they are satisfied that their children's needs are being met without them. Key to that is beefing up preventive work and the help available in schools.
Bureaucracy-busting measures include dropping the first stage of the code of practice and streamlining the individual education plans used in schools at stage two. Stage two will become "School Support," while "Support Plus" would replace stage three, at which outside expertise is drawn on.
Guidance will be issued, in the form of case studies, on placing children under School Support and Support Plus - and what schools and education authorities should provide at each level.
Education authorities will also have to detail what SEN help they expect schools to pay for, and what they will provide. But suggestions that schools and parents should enter into a contract over school-based help have been dropped.
Providing parents of SEN children with better information and advice - and sooner - remains an aim. From 1999, all education authorities will be expected to have a parent-partnership scheme offering access to independent parent supporters. The Government has pledged Pounds 18 million over three years, and also wants authorities to set up semi-independent conciliation services from 2000.
The other big cash commitments are on physical and curriculum adaptations to schools and training, particularly for mainstream teachers. The Green Paper consultations showed many felt ill-equipped to deal with rising numbers of pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD).
Education authorities can expect to be involved in regional arrangements for co-ordinating services from April 2000, subject to the results of pilots in east London, Merseyside, the West Midlands and the South-west.
There will also be opportunities for joint working with health authorities on speech and language therapy with financial support from the Department for Education and Employment's Standards Fund.
Consultations will also begin next year on a programme for EBD schools, in which successful heads will support colleagues in a bid to reduce the number of such schools identified as failing by the Office for Standards in Education.
Other threads in the web to look out for include research on inclusion and effective help for EBD pupils in mainstream schools; work on primary "nurture" groups and the role of educational psychologists; and the setting up of a national institute to disseminate special needs research findings.
A summary of "Meeting Special Educational Needs - A Programme of Action" is available from the DFEE, tel: 0845 602 2260. Quote reference MSENPAS.
MEETING SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS
* Research on conciliation services, promoting inclusion, providing for EBD pupils in mainstream schools, training for learning assistants.
* Pilot project on regional co-ordination of SEN services.
* Working groups on future role of educational psychologists and speech and language therapy.
* Research on parent partnerships .
* Cash for parent partnerships , promoting inclusion, and increasing access to mainstream schools.
* Consultations on revised SEN code of practice, independent SEN school placements, peer consultancy for EBD schools, and educational psychologists.
* LEAs establish conciliation arrangements.
* Revised SEN code published.
* Cash for training learning support assistants.
* Regional co-ordination of SEN extended England-wide.
* Speech and language therapy pilot projects.