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Thursday, November 5, 1998 Published at 15:20 GMT


Education

Special help for special needs

Boost for special needs children in mainstream schools

The government is putting millions of pounds into improving support for pupils with special educational needs.

The announcement of its new action programme is being welcomed by campaigners more because it does not feature something that was originally proposed - a target for reducing the number of children with formal 'statements' of special needs.


[ image: Nadia Clarke's family moved from Northumberland to Calderdale so she could attend a normal school]
Nadia Clarke's family moved from Northumberland to Calderdale so she could attend a normal school
The programme does say that "the special educational needs of most children who do not have severe, long-term or lifelong complex medical or physical needs will be met without the need for a statement".

But the School Standards Minister, Estelle Morris, said many parents of children with special educational needs had been concerned about the possibility of any reduction in the proportion of children with statements.

"We have listened carefully to what they have said," she said.


[ image: Calderdale Council's Denise Faulconbridge says it has switched money from special schools:
Calderdale Council's Denise Faulconbridge says it has switched money from special schools: "So it costs us no more"
"Over time, we expect more parents to feel confident that their children's needs can be met without a statement.

"But we will not remove parents' rights to request a statutory assessment or statement. Nor will we remove the legal protection offered by statements."

Last year's proposals had raised fears amongst campaigners for disabled children and their parents that the government aimed to cut costs by diluting legal entitlements to support.

'Voice of the users heard'

A spokeswoman for the Independent Panel for Special Education Advice, Katy Simmons, said: "The government has heard the voice of the users of these services. Last year's green paper was the voice of the providers.

"There was an outcry from parents, who said very clearly that what they needed was a legal framework which guaranteed that children's needs would be met. The government appears to have heard that, and we welcome that."


[ image: Legal entitlements safeguarded]
Legal entitlements safeguarded
Ms Morris said the legal protection offered by statements would remain.

"Parents don't want statements for their own sake. They want them because they see them as the only way their children's needs are going to be met.

"I want an education system where parents decide they don't need a statement, because the support that their children need is already there. I don't want parents to have to go through 18 months of bureaucracy and hassle to get the support in schools that their children need.

"But at the end of the day, if all else fails, the legal protection will be there.

What the government plans:

  • £21m in 1999-2000 for promoting training to develop the knowledge and skills of all staff working with children with special needs
  • £8m in 1999-2000 to promote inclusion and develop links between mainstream and special schools - for example, enabling pupils from special schools to participate with their peers in joint classes or joint school assemblies
  • £20m as the start of a sustained programme to make more mainstream schools accessible to disabled pupils - perhaps to purchase specialist furniture or computers to improve pupils' access to the National Curriculum.
  • give better support and advice for parents and carers
  • from 1999, expecting every LEA to have a parent partnership scheme which will support parents and help them make informed choices
  • support initiatives to promote partnership in special needs locally, regionally and nationally
  • provide an improved special needs framework that focuses more on meeting children's needs
  • introduce a simplified Code of Practice in 2000/2001 that makes life simpler for parents by reducing bureaucracy and promoting effective school-based support and monitoring.

The measures will continue the trend that has seen the closure of many special schools, with pupils being taught instead in mainstream classes.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers claims that disruption and violence has escalated as a result, with too many children with severe behavioural difficulties being put into ordinary schools.

Ms Morris said: "We shall carry on putting the needs of individual children first. For some, a mainstream placement will not be right. So there will be a continuing and vital role for special schools.

"We want to build on their strengths and ensure they develop closer links with mainstream schools so that their expertise is used to the full."





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National Association for Special Educational Needs

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