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Friday, September 17, 1999 Published at 00:19 GMT 01:19 UK


More disabled children in mainstream schools

More disabled pupils are being given places in mainstream schools

Disabled children are increasingly being taught in mainstream schools but the chances of gaining a place depends on where they live, according to a new report.

Last year England's special school population dropped to 87,210 pupils - its lowest ever level according to the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education in Bristol.

But researchers found wide variations in policy across different local education authorities.

A pupil in Lambeth, south London, is 15 times more likely to be sent to a special school than a pupil a few miles away in Newham, east London.

'Inconsistent approach'

The LEAs with the largest special school populations are Lambeth where 3% of all five to 15-year-olds are in special schools, Brighton and Hove in East Sussex (2.89%), Poole in Dorset (2.63%), Wandsworth in south London (2.27%), St Helens (2.23%) and Knowsley, Merseyside (2.21%), according to the report.

The most widely integrated LEAs are Newham which has just 0.2% of five to 15-year-olds in special schools, Barnsley in South Yorkshire (0.41%), and Leicestershire, Cornwall and Harrow in north west London, all with 0.55%.

The CSIE is calling on the government to iron out these inconsistencies to ensure a "greater fairness of implementation of the law can be achieved across the country".

'Human rights'

A spokesman said: "The exclusion of disabled children is a fundamental human rights issue.

"More and more ordinary schools are willing to adapt their building and curricula to include this hitherto excluded group.

"There are enormous benefits to all concerned when children with disabilities or learning difficulties and those with challenging behaviour are included with appropriate support and planning."

But Colin Hilton, education director at St Helens, said rushing too quickly into a transfer policy could make matters worse for special needs pupils.

"St Helens accepts that a considerably higher proportion of its pupils are in special schools than the national average but does not accept that it is any less inclusive," he said.

"A distinction must be drawn between an inclusive education system and simply integrating special needs pupils into mainstream schools.

"It is quite possible to have such pupils significantly disadvantaged socially and educationally by inadequate mainstream provision."

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