The code of practice for special needs pupils could be revamped if Labour has its way, reports Karen Thornton.
WRITING AND reviewing individual plans for special needs children is still causing headaches for teachers in both primary and secondary schools.
And coverage of schools' special educational needs policies in governors' annual reports to parents continues to be of poor quality, according to Her Majesty's Inspectorate.
HMI's third report on the SEN code of practice focuses on individual education plans - the teacher-produced school documents setting out the specific learning difficulties and needs of individual children, and how they will be met.
Such plans were introduced in the SEN code of practice, and HMI found that schools were generally following the code's guidance when producing their own versions.
Liaison between primary and secondary schools is improving, many pupils are achieving their IEP targets and being set new challenging ones, and general attitudes towards pupils with special needs are improving within schools.
However, the inspectors were concerned that pupils' views are rarely sought when preparing or reviewing their IEPs, that planning and provision for individual pupils is rarely linked to schools' literacy policies, and that the writing and reviewing of IEPs is still the greatest cause of concern for SEN co-ordinators.
"The number of IEPs that need to be produced and reviewed for many secondary schools and some primary schools constitutes a very significant burden for many teachers," their report notes.
Moreover, the 43 schools surveyed - many of them identified for their good practice on the plans - continued to have difficulties in meeting every child's special needs.
Chris Marshall, head of the Office for Standards in Education's SEN division, said: "Individual education plans have a vital role to play in schools' strategic planning and special educational needs policy. Some schools are making effective use of these plans in setting learning targets and reviewing their pupils' progress, but many are not."
The HMI report says that IEPs should be tackled by the Government in its current revision of the SEN code of practice. Schools need greater clarification of what should be in an IEP, while governors and senior managers need to look at how the plans fit into school assessment and recording arrangements. Primary schools also need to relate them to the literacy and numeracy hours.
New draft regulations covering the work of the SEN tribunal would give children a right to attend hearings and give evidence on their own behalf.
They also set out guidelines on how long it should take education authorities to respond to tribunal decisions - one week for reinstating SEN statements, two to three weeks for starting assessments or reassessments, and three to four weeks for making or amending statements.
Other changes proposed include the replacement of the current three-stage appeals procedure with two stages, and new arrangements for the admission of late evidence.
And in future, lay members of tribunal panels will all have some knowledge or experience of SEN. Currently, people with experience of local government are also eligible.
"The SEN Code of Practice: Three Years On (IEPs)" is available from the OFSTED publications centre, telephone 0207 510 0180.
THE FUTURE OF SPECIAL NEEDS PROVISION.
Each child registered as having special needs should have an individual education plan setting out their needs, provision and goals. An Office for Standards in Education survey of IEPs found that: * Liaison between primary and secondary schools over children with IEPs is improving.
* Schools are generally following the guidance of the special educational needs code of practice on IEPs.
* Many pupils are achieving their IEP targets - and being set new ones.
* General attitudes towards such children are improving in schools.
But: * Teachers are sometimes overwhelmed by the number of IEPs.
* Schools are still having problems meeting the needs of individual children.
* Schools need greater clarification from the government on what should be in an IEP.
Conciliation arrangements, for reducing disputes between parents and education authorities over provision for children with special educational needs, should: * Be voluntary.
* Have an element of independence.
* Not prevent parents from appealing to the SEN tribunal - as is their legal right.
* Be in place in 2000.
* Be based on confidential meetings, ideally held in neutral venues.
* Should be well publicised.