Headlines: March 9th, 2007



Local authorities will face tough new tests in future when they are considering changing their educational provision for children with special needs. They have been sent draft guidance on planning and developing their support for children. Final guidance will be published later in the year after consultations with parents and other groups and when councils have had a chance to make comments.

The new measures were set out by Schools Minister Lord Adonis and include a new improvement test for authorities who might be considering reorganising their SEN provision, including changing special school provision. The draft follows a promise made by the Department for Education to the Education and Skills Committee that guidance would be issued to local authorities on the factors they must take into account.

The draft guidance is also being sent to the Schools Adjudicator, the Special Educational Consortium, the National Parent Partnership Network and other organisations for their views. The draft will also be used by the independent Schools Adjudicator in considering appeals. It requires local authorities to demonstrate clearly how reorganised provision would improve what is already in place. They will also have to consider carefully the views of local communities.

Lord Adonis hoped the guidance would help reassure parents who were concerned about the quality of special needs education in their areas. He said that within a national framework set out by the Department it was the responsibility of local councils to decide the precise pattern of local SEN provision based on children’s needs and the wishes of parents. “The needs of the child must be paramount and every child with SEN should get a high quality education that meets their individual needs. This new guidance makes good the Government’s pledge that local authorities cannot change the local pattern on special schools unless they can show that better quality special needs provision will result,” he said.

Lord Adonis added that special schools continued to have an important role and the proportion of pupils with special needs statements who were in special schools had risen in recent years. Government policy, he said, was to provide flexible provision, including mainstream schools, special schools and specially resourced provision in mainstream schools.