Letter: Children's interests

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The flip way your leader ("A statement of the obvious", 18 September) dismisses parents of disabled children is clearly not informed by any contact with parents struggling to get the right education for their child. As an organisation which every day hears distressing stories from such parents we fear that the stage is being set to reduce the rights of children with statements of special educational need.

The "problem" defined by the Audit Commission in its report on special needs affects local education authorities. The solutions - often involving shifting resources from one area to another - are intended to take the pressure off the statutory duties of the LEA and shift it to parents and schools. Or in other words, moving the emphasis away from statementing, which legally entitles children to extra help, to the discretionary provision provided by schools.

Our experience is that help is only guaranteed where there is a statutory duty.

LEA problems stem from the fact that insufficient extra resources were put into special educational needs following the introduction of the Code of Practice in 1994. Expenditure by LEAs on pupils and students with statements of special educational needs has gone down since the code was introduced. The suggestion that special education is draining education budgets is a myth. The Audit Commission appears to be playing with figures by suggesting that spending is rising on SEN. Latest DfEE figures show that pounds 1.69bn was spent by LEAs on pupils with statements of special education needs in 1996-97 compared with pounds 1.82bn for 1994-95.

ACE would argue that this is an argument to better finance special education, especially if inclusion of disabled children into mainstream schools is to succeed, not remove the hard-won rights of children with disabilities.

MARGARET McGOWAN

The Advisory Centre for Education, London N5

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