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Adjudicator Supports Closure

Once again The Office of the Schools Adjudicator has supported a proposal to close Special Schools. Although we are quiet satisfied with the consultation performed by the adjudicator, the report supporting the decision is once again very disappointing.

It seems that any Special School Closure is regarded as being in line with government policy and that provided the LEA has an SEN Development Plan that states they want to move to a more inclusive system, then the closure will be upheld. This was clearly spelt out in the report, when it concluded that the deliberate forcing down of the roles in the Special Schools was simply a consequence of the policy, rather than a crude attempt to justify it.

No attempt was made to address the strong opposition from the Head Teachers of local comprehensives, who made it quite clear that they valued the special schools more than any additional funding they might receive under the so called inclusion dividend. It also conveniently ignored the opposition of the 98.9% of people who voted in the Tewkesbury referendum.

One shred of comfort was that the Adjudicator rejected the idiotic proposal to close Battledown Children’s Centre. The one thing in the SEN Development Plan with widespread support was improved early intervention. How this would be down by closing such a highly successful and regarded early years provision was clearly a mystery to the Adjucicator as well.

Howard pledge on special schools

The Tories have pledged to stop the closure of special needs schools.

Parents face a clear choice between a Tory government who would support special schools and Labour who would close them, Michael Howard said. The "rigid approach" of educating all pupils in mainstream schools ignores children's uniqueness, he said.

Labour says Tory plans to cut £35bn in spending would hit education. The Lib Dems said the debate should be about what is best for individual children.

Outlining his party's approach, Mr Howard said the "inclusion at all costs" culture had undermined teachers' authority and hit school standards.

Mr Howard said many parents felt the system worked against them

Parents across the country were fighting to keep their child's special school open, Mr Howard said. "They fight to keep special schools open because they understand how good these schools are for their children. "Parents value the expertise and experience of the teachers. They see the progress their child is making and they do not want to lose this."

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001 states that a child must be educated in a mainstream school unless this is "incompatible" with parents' wishes or interferes with other pupils' education.

Mr Howard says a Conservative government would revoke this presumption as it had led to the closure of many good schools. "Some parents lack confidence that mainstream schools will offer the support that they need, but they know that special schools will provide it." He also said that teachers lacked guidance on dealing with special needs children.

Education Secretary Ruth Kelly said parents of children with special educational needs would be among those hardest hit by Tory plans to cut £35 billion from public services. "The Tories would introduce a voucher system that would cut over £1bn from state schools to subsidise the private education of a few. "How would a £5,500 voucher pay for a child with special educational needs that might cost up to £200,000?" Labour also pointed out there are 90,000 pupils in special schools.

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis said he was saddened to hear "more talk of compartmentalizing our school children". But acknowledged that parents of children with special needs deserved to know they were being taught in the most appropriate setting.

Thousands of children, who previously would have automatically gone to special schools, had been "successfully educated with their peers in mainstream schools," he added. Moves to close special school began under a Conservative government but 91 have closed since 1997 - leaving the current number at 1,148.

Department for Education and Skills said parents had a right to a special school place if they wanted it and that consolidating provision in fewer, bigger schools meant there were more "centres of excellence". The department recently announced that a dozen special schools, state and private, would have specialist status with extra money and a remit to spread good practice.

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