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By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley...
By LGCnet political correspondent Robert Hedley

The government will publish next year a programme of action to improve the lives of children with special educational needs, education minister Baroness Ashton told peers.

This follows an Audit Commission report which, she said, the government welcomed. The programme of practical measures would improve things through earlier intervention by services, better co-ordination of education, health and social services, support for inclusion [in the community] and action to raise educational attaintment and to recognise the achievement of children with special educational needs.

Liberal Democrat Baroness Walmsley said she was concerned that the Audit Commission had showed that many parents with statements of their children's needs were finding great difficulty in getting those children into the school of their choice - the implication being that schools were excluding children with special needs in order to protect their position in the league tables. She suggested it was 'time to abandon these misleading and damaging league tables and to introduce a system which properly measures the successes of children and schools.'

The minister said the Audit Commission's evidence of unwelcoming attitudes of schools was largely anecdotal. However, from July 2002 there has been a requirement for local education authorities to publish their arrangements for the admissions of children with special educational needs. That would form part of the discussions of the Statutory Admissions Forum to ensure the needs of the children were being dealt with properly.

Conservative Lord Astor of Hever, who has an autistic daughter, asked what the government was doing to tackle the difficulties felt by children with autism disorders in school admissions. This was particularly highlighted by the Audit Commission, he said.

Baroness Ashton said the DfES and DoH had produced guidance to help promote good practice and work with local education authorities. However, this was an area in which more work was needed to ensure autistic children were supported effectively.

Former Conservative cabinet minister Lord Renton said it must be remebered that the vital, overriding factor that most children with special needs were in need of special education. 'To send them to mainstream schools not only deprives them of that, but obstructs the general giving of education for normal children in mainstream schools,' he added.

The minister replied that there was much evidence to support the fact that children with special needs can be well taught in mainstream schools, to the benefit of all children in the mainstream schools.

There were 1,098 maintained special schools. A working group was examining how best the DfES and the government as a whole could best support special schools to ensure their 'rightful place'.

Liberal Democrat Lord Addington said one of the most damning recommendations in the Audit Commission report suggested that in the monitoring ofthe progress of special needs 'we do not know when we are getting it right and getting it wrong'.

The minister said that next year, for the first time, there would be detailed information the needs and attainment of those children, helping to work out the right level of support to ensure schools were more successful.

Hansard 5 Dec 2002: Column 1287 - 1289

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