Primary schools loath to take special needs children

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The Independent Online

Primary schools are reluctant to accept pupils with learning difficulties, physical handicaps or emotional problems because they fear taking such children will adversely affect their rating in school-test league tables.

The finding was revealed in a survey published yesterday by the National Primary Trust, which also reported that many schools feel they lack the specialist staff to cope with such children's needs.

The findings fly in the face of a forthcoming government initiative to place more children with special needs in mainstream schools. Ministers hope to improve the education of special needs children with an Act coming into force in September, which strengthens their right to a place at a mainstream school.

Nearly 90 per cent of heads taking part in the survey said primary schools were unready for an increase in the number of pupils with special needs in mainstream education. More than 50 per cent said that taking more special needs pupils would damage their school's standing in test league tables. And more than 75 per cent said their staff lacked the skills needed to cope with children with special needs.

The report concluded: "The overwhelming impression is that headteachers feel that schools are not prepared for an increase in inclusion, staff do not have the required skills and that increased SEN (special educational needs) pupil numbers will have an adverse effect on school performance."

Eighty per cent of heads argued that their schools were not equipped to take pupils with severe hearing problems, while 78 per cent were unprepared for visually impaired students. Only about half said they were prepared for children with behavioural problems although most felt they could cope with pupils with learning difficulties, the report said.

The report was based on a survey of more than 200 primary headteachers, who attended the National Primary Trust's annual conference earlier this year.

Peter Frost, the trust's chief executive, said: "There have been so many substantial initiatives over the last four or five years. Our data illustrates the fact that heads feel unprepared for an increase in the number of SEN pupils. They feel very anxious about it and are worried about the consequences. This underlines the need for collaboration between the Government and schools."

A spokesman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "The Secretary of State announced last week a programme of work to support all schools in setting high expectations of behaviour, developing the emotional intelligence of children, tackling severe behavioural problems and supporting staff and parents.

"The programme will include more teacher training, better working between health and education to spot and tackle problems and more support for young children at the start of school."