Warnock revisited

THE problems surrounding special education pile up. It is hard to know whether they have recently grown in intensity or whether the publicity, afforded in particular by the Parliament, is bringing to wider attention areas long of concern to parents and professionals. Certainly, the inquiry by the Parliament's education committee (page ????) was well chosen. It gives an opportunity to focus on a group of pupils whose needs have not been so widely discussed since the Warnock report in the late seventies.

Listing some of the issues highlights the challenges for practitioners and policy-makers. There is a continuing move towards mainstreaming. But where does that leave schools with facilities designed to meet the specific needs of a group? How should such schools be financed? Are parents' wishes kept to the fore?

Does the recording of children, a requirement dating backto Warnock, now make sense when children with problems are supposed to work to an individual educational programme? Where do those with emotional and behavioural difficulties fit into arrangements primarily for others with physical or learning problems? Fundamentally, what are the parameters of special education? Should they encompass a small number of children - 2 per cent? - or the much larger numbers who display some form of learning difficulty - up to 20 per cent?

The parliamentary inquiry will not address all these areas although it has heard wide-ranging evidence. Its report should be important first in focusing attention on provision often sidelined, and beyond that in seeking action by the Executive and local authorities on areas of particular or immediate concern. The Executive's new national advisory forum will bring together the professional input.

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