U-turn from expert who orchestrated move from special schools

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The Independent Online

Baroness Warnock, the architect of the drive towards teaching special-needs children in mainstream schools, is to deliver a damning indictment of the system.

Mary Warnock, whose report on special education 25 years ago began the move towards greater inclusion, is calling for a "radical review" of procedures. In a pamphlet to be published by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, she says the pressure to include pupils with special needs in mainstream schools causes "confusion of which children are the casualties".

She says she wants to see an independent committee of inquiry set up to investigate how the policy is operating. She also calls for a review of the statementing process - whereby parents can apply for a statement of their children's needs - claiming it is "wasteful and bureaucratic" and "must be abolished".

Her U-turn is confirmed just a day after the Conservatives called for a moratorium on special-school closures, claiming the number of places in them has been reduced by 6,000 since 1997.

Shesays support for inclusion "springs from hearts in the right place" but she describes its implementation as a disastrous legacy. "Governments must come to recognise that, even if inclusion is an ideal for society in general, it may not always be so for the school."

She says that special schools today suffer from a "patronising" attitude which limits their use to children with the "most severe and complex disabilities". She argues that schools should serve a wider variety of needs, including autism, but should be small enough to provide a reassuring and personal environment for emotionally vulnerable children.

Lady Warnock, whose change of heart wasrevealed in The Independent last October, acknowledges her responsibility for designing the statementing system, which had "tu`rned out to be a not-very-bright idea". She had thought it would apply to just 2 per cent of pupils instead of the 20 per centseeking them. It had become too bureaucratic with parents coming to feel that "all the cards were stacked against them".

The Department for Education and Skills denied there had been wholesale closures, saying the number of children taught in special schools had "remained broadly static" for 10 years.