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Last Updated: Tuesday, 12 October 2004, 09:03 GMT 10:03 UK
Behaviour problems strain schools
Schools face hard choices with pupils with behaviour problems
Schools remain reluctant to be "inclusive" if it means accepting pupils with behaviour problems, say education inspectors in England.

A report from Ofsted has examined how children with special needs are being included in mainstream schools.

It says the "hardest test" for the principle of inclusion comes with pupils with behaviour problems.

Inspectors found there had been a 25% increase in such pupils being sent to "referral units" for problem children.

There had also been a 10% increase in pupils being sent by their local authorities to independent special schools.


The government has promoted the idea that where possible children with special educational needs should receive help within a mainstream school.

Charts showing the breakdown of different needs in primary and secondary schools.

The intention is to give special needs pupils a greater sense of integration, rather than being taught in separate special schools.

David Bell, chief inspector of schools in England, launching the report, said he did not advocate the shutting of special schools - and cautioned local authorities against their premature closure.

Inspectors say that while there is a growing acceptance of the benefits of greater inclusion - there has not been much evidence of an increase in special needs pupils in mainstream schools.

"The report paints a varied picture of success so far. Most schools have been convinced of the benefits of inclusion," he says.

"However, against common perceptions, the proportion of pupils with statements of special educational needs in mainstream schools has not yet been affected by the inclusion framework."

Even the more committed head teachers had reservations when asked to admit pupils with high levels of need
David Bell, chief inspector of schools in England

The term "special needs" can cover a wide range of physical and behavioural difficulties.

And the report says the greatest difficulty in accommodating special needs pupils is with children with "social and behavioural" problems.

"There's no point in running away from the fact that schools have difficulties with this. It is the unresolved problem facing inclusion," said Mr Bell.

"Schools can be quite comfortable with looking after children with physical disabilities - but when it comes to behaviour problems, they also have to weigh up their responsibilities to other pupils.

"It is the issue where conflicts between meeting individual needs and 'efficient education for other children' are the most difficult to reconcile," says Mr Bell.

"Inspectors found that even the more committed head teachers had reservations when asked to admit pupils with high levels of need, especially where they had previously attended mainstream schools without success".


A Department for Education and Skills spokesperson said: "If a child is disruptive or violent then we support heads in their tough decisions to remove a child from mainstream provision - to a pupil referral unit or other alternative provision."

There were also doubts about the quality of teaching for special needs pupils - and uncertainty about their expected levels of achievement.

"The teaching of pupils with special educational needs continues to be of varying quality, with a high proportion of lessons having shortcomings," says the report.

"A minority of mainstream schools meet special needs very well, and others are becoming better at doing so."

Mr Bell praised the efforts of the Hampstead School in north west London, where the report was launched.

The school's head teacher, Andrew Knowles, said inclusion was part of the ethos of the school - with facilities for pupils in wheelchairs and a support centre for 40 or 50 pupils with behavioural problems.

Learning mentors

He highlighted how much the staffing of inner-city schools had changed to help such pupils - with about 40% of staff now non-teachers, including learning mentors, assistants and counsellors.

The special needs co-ordinator at the school, Pat Mikhail, also said that older pupils were being trained to mentor younger pupils.

And she said that such a range of approaches had helped to keep a low rate of exclusion.

The general secretary of the National Union of Teachers, Steve Sinnott, said Ofsted's report showed the enormous efforts schools had made.

"But I am concerned about aspects of the report. Schools cannot be expected to include children with severe behavioural difficulties if teachers have tried and not been able to overcome the problems," he said.

"Teachers have to have regard for the education of all other children in the school. Their education must not be disrupted by the behaviour of children with special needs."

The Conservatives have promised to stop the closure of special schools, and education spokesman, Tim Collins, said that the inclusion policy meant that children have been "dumped on failing schools".

"It is deeply unfortunate that the government's ideological approach to the inclusion of special educational needs pupils in mainstream education has led to the closure of 70 special schools since 1997," he said.

Type of need Primary % Secondary %
Specific Learning Difficulty 41,780 14.5 41,250 19.6
Moderate Learning Difficulty 85,310 29.6 58,100 27.7
Severe Learning Difficulty 7,340 2.5 3,070 1.5
Profound & Multiple Learning Difficulty 1,150 0.4 260 0.1
Behaviour Emotional & Social Difficulties 52,560 18.2 61,930 29.5
Speech, Language and Communications Needs 50,130 17.4 10,720 5.1
Hearing Impairment 6,090 2.1 5,130 2.4
Visual Impairment 3,510 1.2 2,650 1.3
Multi-Sensory Impairment 510 0.2 180 0.1
Physical Disability 11,790 4.1 7,540 3.6
Autistic Spectrum Disorder 15,950 5.5 6,710 3.2
Other Difficulty/Disability 12,180 4.2 12,370 5.9
Source: DfES, Statistics of Schools in England

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