Education Bill: Help for children with learning difficulties

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The Independent Online
The Education Bill sets out to define special educational needs for the first time, making it easier for parents who have children with learning difficulties to claim extra funds and resources for their child, writes Colin Hughes.

The Bill will also set up independent tribunals, appointed by the Lord Chancellor, to which parents can appeal over the assessment of their child's learning difficulty, and the delivery of any additional tuition or support that the child may need.

Ministers hope that the new appeals procedure will rescue thousands of parents from the frustration of unacceptably long delays in having their child assessed.

The Audit Commission found earlier this year that there are also wide variations between local authorities in the proportion of children assessed as having special needs.

Across the country, roughly 2 per cent of children have sufficiently severe learning difficulties to merit a 'statement' of special need.

Under the Bill's proposals, a child will be deemed to have a 'learning difficulty' if he or she 'has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of children of his age', or 'has a disability which either prevents or hinders him from making use of educational facilities of a kind generally provided for children of his age in schools within the area of the local authority'.

Parents will not be able to claim learning difficulty solely because English is their child's second language. The Secretary of State will issue a code of practice to local education authorities telling them how to carry out their duty to ensure that children with statements of special need actually receive the necessary support.

Local authorities will be required to educate children with special needs in ordinary mainstream schools unless there are very strong reasons for sending them to special schools.

Governing bodies will be placed under an obligation to ensure that teachers know the extra needs of children with learning difficulties.

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