Salad dressing or pork pies?

The problems facing children with SENs continue, and it’s hard to see how they will improve while the Government continues on its present path:

Figures from the Audit Commission in 2002 showed that 87 per cent of primary school exclusions and 60 per cent of exclusions in secondary school related to pupils with SEN. The Government insists the situation is getting better; figures released by SEN minister Lord Adonis last July showed the number of permanent exclusions of pupils with SEN halved from 18 per cent in 1997 to nine per cent in 2005.

If only.

The Advisory Centre for Education []says the figures quoted by Adonis mask that fact that, since 1997, data collection has changed; now it only covers the narrower group of children with statements that can be applied for if a child needs extra provision. Chris Gravell, the charity’s policy officer and advice worker, says: “To say it has halved from 1997 to 2005 is nonsense.

…Figures released by the National Autistic Society also cast doubt on Adonis’s figures. Research carried out in both 2000 and 2006 showed that one in five children with autism and one in four children with Asperger syndrome were excluded.

Those for whom SENs are more than a passing political dust-up might want to read last year’s report from the Select Committee on Education & Skills, which warned:

The Government needs to radically increase investment in training its workforce so that all staff, including teaching staff, are fully equipped and resourced to improve outcomes for children with SEN and disabilities.

Evidence from this inquiry demonstrates how far the country is from achieving such a vision. It is simply not acceptable for the Minister to say that the current system is “not always working well”. Special educational needs should be prioritised, brought into the mainstream education policy agenda, and radically improved.

In particular, read the section headed ‘Failings within the SEN system‘, and the minutes of the evidence given by Lord Adonis in which (as junior minister to Ruth Kelly) he bats away all criticism of government in the direction of local authorities or ‘parliament’ – while insisting that the government is not pursuing a policy of closing special schools – in a bravura display of abrasiveness and spin.

The report ought to be required reading for anyone passing comment on the Ruth Kelly business. As the editorial in Children Now says:

As Kelly has realised, sometimes educating children with SEN in mainstream schools may not be in a child’s best interests, because either the pupil or school is just not equipped to cope with the reality of inclusive education.

She, however, is fortunate that she has the luxury of being able to pay to “do the right thing” for her son – many other parents will never be so lucky. As a result, it’s imperative that the Government urgently revisits the issue in order to create a system that would be good enough for their own children not just for the public at large.

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