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A new report from the Office for Standards in Education has found that there is little difference in the quality of...
A new report from the Office for Standards in Education has found that there is little difference in the quality of provision and outcomes for pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities (LDD) in the mainstream and special schools visited.

However Inclusion: Does it matter where pupils are taught? finds that mainstream schools with additionally resourced provision are more successful in achieving good outcomes for pupils academically, socially and personally. Pupil Referral Units were the least successful of all the settings visited.

The report finds that pupils with the most severe and complex needs can make outstanding progress in all types of provision. High quality, experienced teachers and a commitment by school leaders are the keys to success. However, inspectors criticise mainstream schools that rely too heavily on teaching assistants because children in such circumstances are less likely to succeed than those who have access to experienced, qualified specialist teachers.

Chief inspector of schools Maurice Smith said:

'Pupils with even the most severe and complex needs can make outstanding progress in all types of settings. The inclusion debate has for too long focused on whether children with learning difficulties and disabilities should be educated in special schools or mainstream schools rather than the quality of the education and support they receive.'

Those pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties (PMLD) or severe learning difficulties (SLD) and challenging behaviour who are educated in mainstream schools, are as likely to do well as those taught in special schools when they have access to teaching from experienced and qualified specialist teachers.

The report goes on to criticise the process for the formal assessment of children in obtaining a statement of special educational need. Pupils with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties are least well served by this complex process. Furthermore, while a statement usually generates additional resources, it does not guarantee access to good quality provision in any type of setting.

Mr Smith continued:

'Pupils with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties receive too little support too late.

'Although statements are effective in identifying the educational needs of pupils the system can be cumbersome and bureaucratic.'

The report recommends that the Department for Education and Skills should work more closely with other government departments to clarify what is meant by 'good' progress for pupils with LDD, focusing more on the progress of those in the lowest performing quartile.

The Training and Development Agency should improve initial training and continuing professional development in the field of LDD for all teachers and provide more opportunities for specialist training around learning difficulties in general, and for specific disabilities.

Mainstream schools should analyse critically their use of teaching assistants and the amount of specialist teaching provided for a range of LDD within a broad and balanced curriculum, developing knowledge and skills relating to LDD across the school workforce. Special schools should work with local authorities and other services more effectively to develop specialist teaching in mainstream schools.

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