Unfair changes to special needs

YOUR special needs report (TES, Friday magazine, June 28) points up issues which are exercising minds in Wiltshire and, no doubt, elsewhere.

You say that "local education authorities have had their strategies for controlling costs eliminated". Yet Wiltshire has introduced the Government's new criteria for assessing children with moderate special needs - School Action and School Action Plus - in such a way that will remove many with real need from recognition at any level, and leaves schools coping with very demanding children with little support.

Two examples will suffice: a Year 6 pupil will need to have a reading age of 7.00 or below to be recognised at School Action plus (7.03 at School Action), whereas our local secondary screens Year 6 at 9.5 or below because they are deemed unable to access the curriculum.

Year 5 and 6 children with emotional and behavioural difficulties will only be recognised at SA-plus if they "have difficulties preventing access to the curriculum; are regularly off task for more than 50 per cent of time; disrupt the learning of peers; hit peers causing injury more than three times daily; use adult languageswear words to intimidate, frighten or threaten; leave the school without permission and go to a potentially dangerous situation; consciously damage property belonging to peers or school, daily; (indulge in) playground behaviour causing physical risk to themselves or other children, daily".

By contrast, Staffordshire, apparently, moved children from Stage 2 and 3 of the old system to School Action and School Action-plus, and when I spoke to an official at the Department for Education and Skills he confirmed that this is what they had intended all LEAs to do.

If "the Education Act 1993 sought to reduce conflict between parents and local authorities ... and cut out the room for confusion, delay and evasion", it has largely failed because LEAs are managing to achieve all three by a variety of tactics, and not having a national set of criteria for stages of SEN makes this easier.

To say that there is "no obvious way of measuring the effectiveness of the SEN system" ignores the fact that individual progress is used widely to place pupils on the "register" at different points, in pupil target-setting and to achieve school, local and national targets.

There must be national criteria for SEN to ensure fairness and consistency within and between authorities.

David Witt Head, Priestley primary school Prince Charles Drive Calne, Wiltshire

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