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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 June, 2005, 14:59 GMT 15:59 UK
Call for special schools review
David Cameron
David Cameron called for a halt to the closure of special schools
The Tories have challenged the government to bring a halt to special school closures.

Education spokesman and possible Tory leadership hopeful David Cameron urged an audit of special needs provision - a Labour manifesto pledge.

He said the pendulum had "swung too far" in favour of inclusion which he argued was not always appropriate.

The government rejected that there had been any "systematic reduction in places" in special schools.

Under threat

Mr Cameron was speaking at a special school in Gloucestershire which had been under threat of closure until the county council went Tory on 5 May.

He said the government must find out why special schools have closed since 1997 and discover what sort of provision parents want, whether in mainstream or special schools.

There are 1,148 special schools in the UK, but 91 have closed since 1997. And he argued that ministers should prevent any more closures. In response, the Schools Minister Lord Adonis said "the number of places has declined only very slightly since 1997" with school closures mostly "due to reorganisations, including bringing schools together".

"We don't accept that there has been a systematic reduction in the number of places or in provision."

A spokesperson for the Education Secretary Ruth Kelly added that more special schools had been closed when the Conservatives had been in power, than under the current Labour administration.

Lord Adonis also confirmed that an audit of special school provision is under way - and Mr Cameron said that "this is good news and we will now look for evidence of it. But we will be harrying them day by day to do something about their systematic cuts to special school places".

Election issue

Speaking at the Alderman Knight school in Tewkesbury, Mr Cameron said: "Here we see small class sizes and unbelievable attention to individuals.

"We can see children who are struggling to read or have problems with social skills getting that attention and it is great."

On his possible leadership ambitions Mr Cameron said: "I haven't ruled myself out.

"I'm thinking about it and will be making my decision when the time comes."

Prior to the general election, the government said Tory plans to cut 35bn from public services would affect education.

Ruth Kelly said parents of children with special educational needs would be among those hardest hit by the proposed cuts.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 states that a child must be educated in a mainstream school unless this is "incompatible" with parents' wishes or interferes with other pupils' education.

The Department for Education and Skills recently announced that a dozen special schools, state and private, would have specialist status with extra money and a remit to spread good practice.

A DfES spokesperson added: "We are fully committed to the right of parents to express a preference for a special school place where their child has need.

"Equally, where parents want a mainstream place for their child, everything possible should be done to achieve this, so long as it meets the needs of the child and does not damage the education of other children."

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