Anger over exclusions for special needs pupils

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The Independent Online

Children with special needs are eight times more likely to be excluded from school, according to a government inquiry published today.

Many of them are sent home illegally, the report warned.

Their parents are amongst the “angriest” in Britain and need better support to protect their children, according to Brian Lamb, the man who headed the inquiry.

In one authority, 92 per cent of all exclusions involved children with special needs – such as speech or communications problem, and attention deficit disorder.

However, the official figures may be just the tip of the iceberg as his report revealed that some children were routinely “informally” excluded if support staff failed to turn up or there were staffing shortages.

The report warned that such exclusions were illegal “regardless of whether they were done with the agreement of parents or carers”.

“The inquiry heard of too many instances of children being excluded for reasons linked to the nature of their difficulties,” the report said. There were “instances where staff had not had the relevant training in children’s communication needs”.

“Some parents told us that such exclusions were routinely used to manage their child’s behaviour,” the report added.

“Sometimes ‘informal’ exclusions were used when support staff were absent, when staffing was stretched or to avoid the child being in school for a specific event.

“For some parents, it affected their reliability at work and some lost their job or gave up work because of it.”

“We met some of the happiest parents in the country and some of the angriest,” said Mr Lamb.

“There are significant pockets around the country where it (the process of getting a statement outlining their child’s needs) can work very badly for parents.”

Some authorities were reluctant to agree a statement because of the financial cost in meeting a child’s needs.

His report recommended a range of measures aimed at giving parents more confidence in the system - such as setting up a national helpline which would allow them access to independent experts to help them fight their corner.

In addition, Ofsted, the education standards watchdog, is to be told to report specifically on schools’ special needs provision in inspections. If it is not good, the school will not be able to earn an overall “good” rating for the school.

Mr Lamb, policy director at the Royal National Institute for the Deaf, also called for parents to be allowed legal aid to take cases to tribunal against an authority’s provision and a right to appeal against decisions.

Most of the recommendations were immediately accepted by Schools Secretary Ed Balls – although he indicated yesterday he would need time to assess the cost of providing legal aid and the right to appeal.

“I want every parent and their child, in every local authority, to receive the best support available,” he said.