Alarm over exclusion of pupils with special needs

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The Independent Online

Teachers' leaders and opposition MPs have raised the alarm over increasing numbers of special needs children being excluded from schools.

Figures unearthed by the Liberal Democrats show that for the first time in years more than half the children being excluded from school have some special need. They place a question mark over the success of the policy of integrating children with disabilities into mainstream schools.

The figures show 55 per cent of all exclusions involved pupils with special needs up from 45 per cent four years ago. This amounts to 23,300 pupils with a statement outlining their special needs and 164,450 children considered to have special needs but without a statement.

The figures, included in an answer by the Children's minister Kevin Brennan to a parliamentary question by David Laws, the Liberal Democrat spokesman on children, schools and families, has prompted demands for a review of government policy towards "inclusion" which aims to provide places for children with special needs in mainstream schools.

"Despite only making up a fifth of the school population, more than half of those children excluded have special educational needs," said Mr Laws. He said they risked falling behind in their education as a result of exclusion, adding: "Despite recent warnings from Ofsted and the Parliamentary Select Committee, government policy is continuing to fail children who require extra individual support not exclusion from school.

"I am concerned that ministers are not providing schools with the necessary support to integrate pupils with special needs into mainstream schools. This is likely to create behavioural problems which many headteachers simply don't have the resources to tackle."

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers, which has campaigned against disruptive behaviour in school, said it was "concerned" that the drive for inclusion "can lead to these pupils and their teachers being deprived of the specialist support and advice to which they are entitled".

A spokesman for the Department for Children, Schools and Families said that the figures for permanent exclusions of special needs youngsters with statements had fallen since 1997 from 2,250 to 880. The parliamentary figures cover both fixed-term and permanent exclusion and include all children who need special help regardless of whether they have a statement or not.