Why the pressure to close may become irresistible

Despite the new presumption that pupils with additional support needs should be taught in 'mainstream' schools, those who work in special schools believe there will always be a place for the dedicated establishment, writes Douglas Blane

In the Scottish Parliamentary debate on November 3, MSPs recalled that there had been a "great deal of pressure" to follow the example of other countries, and close all special schools before the presumption of mainstreaming was introduced (in the Standards in Scotland's Schools etc Act 2000). That pressure was resisted at the time.

Robert Brown, depute minister for education and young people, stated the position today: that the mainstreaming presumption is "not an inflexible rule", and that the right balance had to be struck between "children's rights to be educated in a mainstream environment" and "the need to respond sensitively in the cases of children who require a form of specialist provision."

Responding to calls for a moratorium on closure of special schools, the depute minister said that the proportion of children educated in special schools dropped by only 0.07 per cent from 1998 to 2004, "hardly an overwhelming figure".

But since the presumption of mainstreaming only came fully into force in autumn 2003, and councils still have a long way to go in implementing it, this is hardly a relevant figure.

Considerably more relevant are the data contained in Moving to Mainstream, the Audit ScotlandHMIE report published in 2003.

In it, expert opinion from senior special needs managers across the country was used to predict that, by 2007, special school rolls in Scotland would fall as a direct consequence of the presumption of mainstreaming by anything from a quarter to two thirds (the median figure was 39 per cent).

Using Scottish Executive statistics available for the past three years, the recent trend in some special school rolls around the country can be seen in figures from the 2002-04 pupil censuses (see panel, left).

Experience shows that sooner or later, as a school roll falls, the pressure to close can become irresistible.

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