12 special educational needs schools get specialist status

Teachers to get help in identifying SEN pupils
Teachers to get help in identifying SEN pupils

A new speciality has been added to the Government's specialist schools programme - special education needs.

Under the current system schools choose to specify in a subject area, such as languages or music, and if their application is successful receive extra money to push this area forwards. And schools are also expected to share expertise with other local schools.

However, the Children's Minister Margaret Hodge announced today that 12 "trailblazer" schools have been chosen to specialise in special education needs. There are four areas of specialism, based on the current special needs code of practice of: communication and interaction; cognition and learning; behavioural, emotional and social difficulties; or sensory and/or physical needs.

These 12 schools are expected to begin operating as specialist centres in September 2005.

Speaking this morning, Ms Hodge said: "Teachers in special schools have a wide range of skills and in many areas are at the leading edge of good classroom practice. I am delighted that we now have the provision for expert SEN teachers to share their specialised skills with mainstream schools that are committed to pursuing an inclusive approach - to the benefit of all pupils.

"All children deserve the best teaching and learning experience possible, and this new specialism will bring excellence in SEN to an even wider audience."

There will also be a drive (with £1 million available over three years) to improve the training of existing teachers in identifying pupils with special needs and advise on how to help such pupils.

Ms Hodge added: "We need to build the confidence of trainee and existing teachers in the good work they are doing identifying and supporting children with Special Educational Needs in the challenges they face. Children with SEN have the right to enjoy, achieve and excel, as with all children, and our renewed commitment to Special Educational Needs today will help make this a reality for even more children."

The Conservatives though are not impressed and have branded the announcement "pre-election cynicism".

Shadow Education Secretary Tim Collins, said: "For this Labour government to portray itself as the champion of special educational needs is the ultimate in pre-election cynicism. Since 1997 ministers have closed more than 70 special schools - one a month for nearly eight years. Far from believing in diversity of provision, they have consistently pursued a one-size-fits-all ideological obsession with inclusion. It has only been Conservatives who have argued persistently that different children have different needs, and that while some may benefit from inclusion in mainstream schools, many will not.

"Those who care about special schools should stick with the party which has campaigned for a moratorium on their closure not for days or weeks but for years - the Conservative Party."