Headlines: July 13th, 2006

A report from Ofsted today says there is little difference between mainstream and special schools in the quality of provision for pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities. The report, “Inclusion: Does it matter where pupils are taught?” says children with complex needs can make good progress in all types of provision.The report does, though, find that mainstream schools with additional resources are more successful in achieving good outcomes for pupils academically, socially and personally and that Pupil Referral Units were the least successful of all the settings that inspectors visited. Today’s report says that pupils with the most severe and complex needs can make outstanding progress in all types of provision. The keys to their success are high quality, experienced teachers and commitment by school leaders.

But inspectors do criticise mainstream schools that rely too heavily on teaching assistants because in those circumstances children are less likely to succeed than those with access to experienced and qualified specialist teachers.

Chief Inspector of Schools, Maurice Smith, said, “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.”

Pupils with profound and multiple learning difficulties or severe learning difficulties and challenging behaviour who are educated in mainstream schools, are as likely to do well as those taught in special schools when they are taught by experienced and qualified specialists.

The report also criticises the process of formal assessment used in children obtaining a statement of special educational need. It says those pupils with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties are least well served by the process and while a statement usually generates additional resources, it does not guarantee access to good quality provision in any type of school.

The report urges the Department for Education and Skills to work more closely with other departments to clarify what is meant by ‘good’ progress for pupils with learning difficulties and disabilities and to focus more on the progress of those in the lowest performing quartile. It also calls for the Training and Development Agency to improve initial training and continuing professional development in this field for all teachers and to provide more opportunities for specialist training around both general and specific learning difficulties. Finally inspectors believe mainstream schools should analyse their use of teaching assistants and special schools should work more effectively with local authorities and other services to develop specialist teaching in mainstream schools.