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UK Systems Friday, 13 September, 2002, 12:22 GMT 13:22 UK
Special needs
Children deemed to have special educational needs may be most obviously those with a condition that hinders or prevents them from making use of the facilities provided for pupils of their age.

But in the broadest sense it covers all those whom the school considers could benefit from extra help with their studies.

The great majority are educated in mainstream primary and secondary schools, which are required to publish their policies on pupils with special needs.

A government code of practice offers practical guidance to all local education authorities and state schools in England on how to identify, assess and monitor these pupils.


An estimated one in five children has some form of special educational need, ranging from mild dyslexia to behavioural problems to complex medical conditions.

In most cases this is dealt with in schools through an individual action plan. But some need more support than their school can provide.

For these children, the local authority draws up a statement of special educational needs, which in most cases provides extra help of some kind in the school.

Just over 3% of children in England and Wales have a statement.

Provision varies between authorities. Parents have a right to appeal to a Special Educational Needs Tribunal if they disagree with the statement.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, which applies to England and Wales and in part in Scotland, reinforces the right of children with physical or behavioural problems to be taught in mainstream classes.

It was backed by the promise of money to improve access in schools and colleges.

The new law makes it illegal to treat disabled pupils "less favourably" than other pupils and requires schools to make "reasonable adjustments" so that disabled pupils are not put at a "substantial disadvantage".

Inclusion policy

The government has made it clear that it wishes to see more special needs children entering mainstream schools. As a result, special schools for children with moderate difficulties are being closed in many areas.

In 2000, 60% of pupils with statements were in maintained mainstream schools, 35% were in special schools and 5% were in independent schools.

There are about 2,000 special schools (both day and boarding) for pupils with special educational needs. Some of these are run by voluntary organisations and some are in hospitals.

The pupil-teacher ratio in special schools is 6.5 : 1 compared to 18.6 : 1 in mainstream state schools and 9.9 : 1 in independent schools.

Some independent schools provide education wholly or mainly for children with special educational needs, and are required to meet similar standards to those for maintained special schools. It is intended that pupils should have access to as much of the national curriculum as possible.

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