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Websites big let down

Local authorities fail to keep parents well informed on special needs, says ACE. Adi Bloom reports

Jargon and out-of-date information is making it difficult for parents of Welsh pupils with special needs to find the information they need from their local authority, a survey has revealed.

None of the websites set up by the 22 Welsh local authorities provides a clear and accessible resource for parents of special needs pupils, according to the Advisory Centre for Education (ACE), a charity offering advice to parents of excluded and special needs children.

Most websites fail to include even basic information required by 2002 Welsh Assembly regulations, the charity concluded.

It also revealed that many sites are difficult to navigate and filled with jargon. The ACE report states: "Information was written for providers, not parents. Lists of services with contact numbers were often provided, but with no accompanying text to help parents understand how and when they might contact these services."

For example, Swansea listed its special needs information under the heading "transport and streets". Newport included a brief statement on special needs, followed by a telephone number to call for more information. When ACE officials tried the number, they found that it was dead.

Even Torfaen's website, deemed the most comprehensive by officials, included the address of the London SEN and disability tribunal. A Welsh tribunal was established more than a year ago.

Other websites also provided out-of-date information, referring, for example, to a code of practice that was replaced in 2002, or to invalid contact details.

Margaret McGowan, of ACE, said: "They were all awful. Local authorities don't understand how important it is for parents to have this information.

Parents could be beating on the wrong door, or children not getting the right help. Schools then have to pick up the problems later."

A spokeswoman for the Welsh Local Government Association acknowledged that provision varies between authorities.

She said: "Councils recognise this is a priority and have put measures in place to ensure a more effective service is available to parents. They are continually seeking to improve services."

The ACE survey comes a year after a similar survey of English local authority websites. As a result of the English campaign, the Office for Standards in Education has improved its advice to local authority inspectors.

Susan Lewis, chief inspector of Estyn, the Welsh schools' inspectorate, has acknowledged the problems highlighted by the charity. In a letter to ACE, she said: "I was disappointed by the findings of your survey."

Ms Lewis added that Estyn would soon be issuing consultation for a new inspection framework, intended to replicate in Wales the action which Ofsted is taking in England.

Jane Davidson, Assembly minister for education and lifelong learning, has also expressed concern at the survey findings. She has asked Assembly officials to write to each authority and remind them of their duties under the 2002 regulations.

She said: "Parents of children with special needs must be as well-informed as possible about service provision in their area. They need to ensure their child receives the best educational support."

opinion cymru 23

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