'This 75% increase, coupled with extra money from the£70m already allocated to local authorities for education, will help support our programme of action,' said Mr Hain.
'Children with special problems need to be supported properly. I believe that by giving a lead at the national level and working with parents teachers and other partners, we can make great strides in giving children with special educational needs the education they deserve.
'The programme sets out the progress we intend to make in six key areas:
-placing more emphasis on achievement and attainment of pupils with SEN and less on costly bureaucratic processes
-continue to encourage the growth of SEN provision in inclusive mainstream school environments where parents want it and it is right for the child
-work to achieve earlier identification and intervention in addressing SEN
-better support for children and parents -better training for teachers and all who work with SEN children -better co-operation and planning between all agencies with an interest in SEN.
'We shall continue to put the needs of the individual child first and for some, a mainstream place may not be right. Special schools will continue to play an important role in an 'inclusive' education system and we will aim to better utilise their specialist expertise by building closer links with mainstream schools.
'This government has given a committment to substantially increase the funds available to schools over the next three years. In Wales, we are giving local authorities an extra£70m for education spending in 1999-2000 and we have allocated an extra£145m in 2000-2001 and extra£225m in 2001-20002.
'All pupils, including those with SEN, will benefit from this increase. We will also increase the funding available specifically for SEN related activities under the Grants for Education Training and Support (GEST) programme from£1.3m this year to£2.3m in 1999-2000, an increase of over 75%. This level of funding should at least be maintained for 2000-01 and 2001-2002. Decisions on funding from 2000 onwards will be a matter for the national assembly.'
The Welsh Office green paper 'The BEST for Special Education' was published in October 1997, and sought views on the government's proposals in relation to SEN policy and practice. Some 200 responses were received from people and organisations in Wales.
There was general approval of the measures outlined in the green paper and for the establishment of the Welsh Advisory Group on SEN (WAGSEN) which met for the first time last July. The Welsh Advisory Group has been closely involved in considering the responsesand in advising the Welsh Office on the government response.
A summary of the key features of the Action Programme is attached.
Key features of Department's Action Programme for Special Educational Needs (SEN)
SUPPORTING PARENTS AND CHILDREN
We will improve and extend the support and advice for parents and carers of children with SEN, enabling them to play a more active role in their child's education and contributing to higher standards for all children by:
providing high quality early years education and childcare, including support for parents;
encouraging earlier identification of difficulties and appropriate early intervention;
expecting LEAs to have in place arrangements offering all parents of SEN children independent advice and support;
strengthening arrangements for listening to the views of children
requiring LEAs to develop conciliation arrangements for dealing with disputes;
strengthening arrangements for involving children in the process of assessing and meeting their needs.
DEVELOPING THE SEN FRAMEWORK
Subject to the views of the National Assembly for Wales we propose to build on the existing statutory provisions and best practice to improve the SEN framework and to sharpen the focus on meeting children's needs by:
introducing a less bureaucratic SEN code of practice in 2001 which safeguards the interests of children, focuses on preventative work, and promotes effective school-based support and monitoring;
publishing guidance on the placement of children under the Code and the provision to be made for them, and on criteria for making statements of SEN;
improving accountability by requiring LEAs to publish more comprehensive information about their SEN policies, including information about what schools should normally provide from their own budgets and the SEN support LEAs will provide, and monitoring their performance against key indicators;
improving the effectiveness of the SEN tribunal.
These improvements will be supported by more transparent funding arrangements under new Regulations for the funding of maintained schools.
MOVING TOWARDS INCLUSIVE EDUCATION
We will promote further inclusion and develop the role of special schools by:
from September 1999, requiring LEAs to publish information about their policy on inclusion in their Education Strategic Plans;
reviewing the statutory framework for inclusion (s316 of the Education Act 1996);
identifying and disseminating good practice by special schools in developing practical links with mainstream schools, and promoting special schools' contribution to an increasingly inclusive education system;
ensuring children with SEN are treated fairly in schools' admissions procedures;
DEVELOPING KNOWLEDGE AND SKILLS
We will develop the knowledge and skills of all staff working with children with SEN by:
giving greater emphasis to SEN within teacher training, induction and development;
publishing good practice guidance on the work of learning support assistants (LSAs);
consulting on a description of the future role of educational psychologists;
considering further the particular training and development needs of staff working with children with SEN; in the light of consultation on our Green Paper on the future of the teaching profession and the need to increase the number of teachers and specialist staff in the SEN field who are able to work through the medium of Welsh;
considering the training needs of school governors with responsibility for SEN.
WORKING TOGETHER JOININGTO MEET SPECIAL NEEDS
We will help improve the way that LEAs work together, and in partnership with other local agencies, to strengthen support for children with special educational needs by:
introducing new duties of partnership and new powers to enable more flexible funding arrangements between the NHS and local authorities;
working to develop regional co-ordination of SEN provision across Wales in the light of experience gained from proposed regional planning pilot projects;
improving the arrangements for the provision of speech and language and other therapy services;
collecting information about the experiences, once they have left school, of young people with SEN, to help schools and colleges prepare young people for adult life more effectively.