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Tried but not tested

The largest contribution the Parliament's education committee could render special education was to make it the subject of an inquiry and thereby to raise its profile. Unfortunately, no sooner had MSPs started taking evidence than the exams fiasco diverted their energies, and most on the committee would accept it never regained full momentum. The fact that this week's report was not launched at a media conference (except for a private enterprise one held by Brian Monteith, who has reservations about the fate of independent special schools) was also bound to reduce its impact and undermine the committee's own purpose.

The first major piece of legislation by the Parliament had already set out the presumption that children should be educated in mainstream schools if parents want that. The Executive has put extra money into special needs and has raised questions about the effectiveness of the recor of needs. So the education committee had little role other than to make the Executive stand taller still (except for Mr Monteith's concerns about the future of specialist provision).

Had the Parliament been longer in place and had the education legislation not been at the head of the queue, the committee would have had a better chance of fulfilling its constitutional function of taking pre-legislative soundings. But in this case the Bill came first, with its special needs provisions not receiving the informed scrutiny they might have.

The situation now can be summed up. Parents' wishes come first. Children should be kept in mainstream where possible, or returned there as soon as feasible. Councils have bigger bills, to support individual pupils and to make buildings fit disabled requirements. Special schools face more restricted intakes and councils are less eager to use them.

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