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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 December, 2004, 13:26 GMT
Special schools to be specialists
Media studies lesson in school for deaf children
The schools will get extra funding to develop and share expertise
A new form of expertise is being introduced for specialist secondary schools in England - special educational needs.

The Department for Education and Skills is trying the idea in a dozen special schools which take children with particular learning difficulties.

The department hopes all will share expertise with mainstream schools where teachers lack confidence in this area.

But the Conservatives are accusing the government of "pre-election cynicism".

Extra money

Specialist schools normally focus on at least one curriculum area, such as technology or languages.

'TRAILBLAZER' SEN SPECIALISTS
Emily Forte School, Leicester City LEA
Marjorie Kinnon School, Hounslow LEA
Clifford Holroyde School, Liverpool LEA
Holly House School, Derbyshire LEA
Penn Hall School, Wolverhampton LEA
Ashfield School, Leicester City LEA
RNIB New College*, Worcester
Mary Hare School*, Berkshire
West of England (VI) School*, Devon
New Rush Hall School, Redbridge LEA
Firwood School, Bolton LEA
Cuckmere School, East Sussex LEA
*Independent school
Special schools can already apply for the status, which involves raising 50,000 in sponsorship.

Subject to an acceptable four-year development plan, which includes helping other schools and the community, they get extra funding.

The new SEN specialists will receive 100,000 in capital funding and an extra 60,000 a year to spend.

But they will focus on one of the four recognised needs, such as communication or behavioural difficulties, when they assume their new status next September.

Three of the 12 are independent, fee-charging schools - the fees normally paid by the councils which place children there.

Like all specialist schools these new ones will be expected to share their expertise - but more so, with half the extra funding being for such community schemes rather than the usual one third.

1m for training

A report from Ofsted said recently that many mainstream schools remained reluctant to be "inclusive" especially if it meant accepting pupils with behaviour problems.

SEN SPECIALIST AREAS
communication and interaction
cognition and learning
behavioural, emotional and social difficulties
sensory and/or physical needs
The Children's Minister, Margaret Hodge, said: "Teachers in special schools have a wide range of skills and in many areas are at the leading edge of good classroom practice.

"I am delighted that we now have the provision for expert SEN teachers to share their specialised skills with mainstream schools that are committed to pursuing an inclusive approach - to the benefit of all pupils."

Her department is going to work with the Teacher Training Agency and others on 1m worth of projects over three years to improve the SEN skills and confidence of trainee and established teachers.

Benefits

Blackburn head teacher Mike Hatch chairs the group of 19 special schools which currently have conventional specialist status - technology in the case of his school, Crosshills, which takes children with various learning difficulties.

He told the BBC News website that originally they had opposed the idea of an SEN specialism, but could now see the benefits.

"A lot of mainstream schools have children who historically may have gone to special schools, and they don't really know how to manage them," he said.

This development would break down barriers.

"Mainstream schools will know where to go to get advice, support and training."

And although it is not proposed at this stage, he said he would like to see mainstream schools becoming SEN specialists.

"It's a really good way to move towards a more inclusive educational system."

Closures

But the government's announcement was criticised by the Conservative education spokesman, Tim Collins.

"For this Labour government to portray itself as the champion of special educational needs is the ultimate in pre-election cynicism," he said.

"Since 1997 ministers have closed more than 70 special schools - one a month for nearly eight years.

"Far from believing in diversity of provision, they have consistently pursued a one-size-fits-all ideological obsession with inclusion."





SEE ALSO:
Behaviour problems strain schools
12 Oct 04 |  Education
Happier in a special school
12 Oct 04 |  Education
Family's landmark autism victory
06 Oct 04 |  Northern Ireland
Tories to review special schools
06 Aug 04 |  Education
New plan for special needs pupils
11 Feb 04 |  Education


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