SPECIAL EDUCATION NEEDS REFORM?
The number of Special Education Needs (SEN) tribunal cases continues to rise after more parents have been made aware of the new appeal powers which became law through the Children and Families Act in spring 2010.
Tribunals can hear the cases of parents who find that their Local Authority fail to carry out a statutory assessment of their child’s Special Education Needs. Parents can also appeal if the school or council refuses to re-assess a child’s need or if an expert has not seen the pupil for at least six months.
“Biggest reforms to Special Education Needs in 30 years”
A Green Paper, recently produced by the Children’s Minister, Sarah Teather, may divide the Local Authorities and parents even further as the criteria for support offered is, yet again, experiencing change.
There is also disquiet amongst the professionals who, whilst welcoming the government’s wish to propose the “biggest reforms to Special Education Needs in 30 years”, are fearful that many of the changes are being driven by financial constraints. Dr Mary Bousted, General Secretary of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, quoted in the Telegraph, has warned that: “Educational Psychologists and Speech
and Language Therapists are being made redundant as Local Authorities cut their funding following budget cuts from the government.”
Labelling so many children with special needs could be “a disguise for poor teaching” Ofsted
Sonia Blandford, the director of the “Achievement for All” programme currently being piloted in 10 areas, estimates that over 170,000 children are wrongly diagnosed as having Special Educational Needs. She believes the programme, based on giving tailored support and better pastoral care to children when they are first identified as falling behind, would improve the quality of education for all pupils.
This raising of attainment, rather than labelling children, is the focus of the coalition, and follows on from a report by Ofsted last year which felt that labelling so many children with special needs could be “a disguise for poor teaching”. The Green Paper proposes that parents should be given a personal budget to spend on the care of their children with Special Needs.
The “Statements” will be replaced by a single assessment that combines educational needs with health and care. Voluntary and community sectors
POISON IN A BOX . . .
Recycled card packaging processed from old newsprint could allow up to fifty times the agreed safe limit of mineral oils into our foods. Dr Koni Grob of the Food Standards Laboratory in Zurich has recently reported that 119 products in a selection of foods from a German supermarket had high levels of contamination by these mineral oils.
The mineral oils consist of hydro-carbon molecules that are found in printing inks and are not entirely destroyed in the recycling process. They are even able to penetrate all but the thickest inner plastic bags and the longer the food is on the shelf the stronger the contamination. The most susceptible foods are those with a large surface area relative to volume such as breakfast cereals, flour, rice and semolina.
Dr Grob’s team of toxicologists found that these oils could lead to inflammation of internal organs and even cancer. Dr Grob stressed that one meal from
such packaging would not be a problem as this would only consist of a tiny dose. However, he stated that: “These contaminants accumulate in the body and we do not yet fully understand the problems caused by long-term exposure.”
“This is not the time to discard recycled materials” Food and Drink Association
Nick Higham, writing for the BBC, struck a further word of warning: “Food containers themselves are stored and transported in larger cardboard containers that may be equally contaminated.”
Dr Grob admitted that changing over to fresh fibres for packaging was not a viable alternative as this would “require the felling of too many trees”. He felt that special barriers were the way forward. However, the UK Food Standard Agency spokesman, Terry Donahoe,
insisted that there was no cause for concern and Barbara Gallani from the Food and Drink Association, whilst acknowledging that this was a “good starting point for further investigations”,
insisted that this was not the time to discard recycled materials.
Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs correspondent for the Guardian, reported on possible future plans to cut the risks. She advised that in the short term there should be thicker inner bags, in the medium term, more mineral oils should be removed from recycled materials and, in the long term, these harmful mineral oils should be eliminated from printing ink altogether.
Jordans, the UK cereal manufacturer, has decided not to continue with recycled cardboard whilst Weetabix is also looking at recycled packaging that does not contain old newspaper. Sainsburys made the decision in June 2008 to cut out cardboard packaging and sell their own brand cereals and milk in bags.
will be able to deliver provision, which may be contracted out by the Local Authority. A greater choice will be given to parents by giving them the power to set up independent free schools tailored for pupils with Special Needs. Teacher training and the professional development of existing teachers will be overhauled to help pupils with Special Needs.
Dr Nicola Botting, Reader in Childhood Language Impairments, City University London, welcomes the fact that the Green Paper acknowledges the need for increased teacher training but feels particularly worried about the many children with communication difficulties. She fears that neither this new training, nor the voluntary organisations can replace specialist professional help that is given by “regular access to Speech and Language Therapy”. She says: “Children who have difficulties understanding words and sentences are particularly at risk and need specialist input from Speech and Language Therapists. Among children with Special Educational Needs there are, on average, one or two children with communication problems in every classroom.”
Read our article on Speech and Language in our Feature Section on page 12.
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