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The BBC's James Westhead
"The number of school children labelled with special needs has doubled over the last five years"
 real 56k

Tuesday, 20 March, 2001, 19:02 GMT 20:02 UK
Learning checks for pre-school children
nursery classroom
A network of experts will liaise with pre-school groups
Every child in a nursery or playgroup in England is to be assessed to see whether they have learning difficulties.

David Blunkett
David Blunkett said the measures would give all children a good early start
The assessments will feed into the work now done when children start school, with a view to identifying and tackling problems as early as possible.

Every registered early years centre will have a special educational needs co-ordinator, backed by a network of up to 850 area specialists by 2004.

The government is allocating 25m to the scheme, which will include 11m over three years to help local authorities improve their early years services.

Money for training

It is also sponsoring a working group to develop guidance on how to identify special educational needs in the very young - children under the age of two.

The scheme will include 11m to train early years and childcare special educational needs (SEN) workers and 3m to set up a regional network of experts to work with local authorities.

The aim is to contribute to the "baseline assessment" carried out in schools.

Introduced in 1998, this is now an important element in the early identification of problems in all England's first schools.

Choice

The Department for Education expects early years and childcare development partnerships - the organisations responsible locally for providing early education and childcare - to have one area co-ordinator for every 20 private and voluntary centres by 2004.

The Education Secretary, David Blunkett, announced the funding to coincide with the second reading of the Special Educational Needs and Disability Bill in the Commons.

The bill is intended to make it easier for learners with special needs to get a place in a mainstream school, college or university if they want one.

A Conservative amendment opposing the second reading complained that the bill did not "explicitly give priority to the special educational needs of the child and contains no mechanism for safeguarding a viable choice" of school for parents.

Mr Blunkett told MPs the bill would strengthen the right to a mainstream place for children with special educational needs.

"It is important that we change attitudes," he said.

"We cannot simply bring about a step change in equality by legislation. In the end it will be seeing ways around a problem rather than the problem."

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See also:

13 Mar 01 | Education
Disabled pupils 'challenge barriers'
06 Dec 00 | Education
Anti-bias law for disabled pupils
22 Dec 00 | Education
Schools' special needs 'deluge'
26 Jun 00 | Education
Questions over pupils' special needs
01 Nov 00 | Education
Blind learners 'denied access'
20 Apr 00 | Health
Disability in depth
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