Education: Schools squeezed by special needs

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The Independent Online
A dramatic increase in the number of pupils needing special help at school is putting severe pressure on education budgets, according to councils in London. New figures compiled by authorities in the capital reveal a 50 per cent rise over the past three years, bringing total numbers to around 25,000.

The sudden increase, the councils say, has been prompted partly by the introduction a year ago of a new code of practice for local education authorities, tightening their responsibilities on identifying and providing for pupils with special needs.

Parents have also become more aware of their children's entitlements, and are more prepared to go to a tribunal if they are dissatisfied with their LEA's assessment of their child. In addition, the opening of more specialist centres means places are now being found for children who formerly would not have been catered for.

Dame Sheila Knight, education chair of the Association of London Government, which carried out the survey, said the rise in demand was costing some boroughs an extra pounds 3m a year just to fulfil their statutory responsibilities. She called on the Government to provide more funding to save councils from cutting other education provision.