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Lichfield head teacher warns pupils could be ‘cheated’ out of special attention needed

Scores of primary and secondary school children in the West Midlands could be “cheated” out of the special attention they need to help them learn, according to Lichfield head teacher.

Statistics show that from 2005 to 2010 the number of school pupils indentified as having Special Educational Needs (SEN) has risen from 90,530 (19 per cent) to 96,070 (20.8 per cent). However, the number of pupils who have been given a formal statement of SEN in the same period has dropped from 6,950 (two per cent) to (1.1 per cent).

Dr Daryl Brown, head teacher at specialist school Maple Hayes Dyslexia School, said:

“Achieving a statement of SEN is a crucial step in ensuring a pupil gets the provision they need, because it binds a Local Education Authority (LEA) to funding the specialist support and tuition required. Parents value the formal recognition of their child’s needs provided by a statement, and it provides added rigour to planning for their needs.

“However it is gravely concerning that numbers of pupils with reported SEN issues in primary and secondary schools in the West Midlands have risen whilst there has been a decrease in the number receiving these invaluable statements of SEN. It points to potentially scores of pupils being cheated out of the support they could be legally entitled to under the Education Act 1996.”

Dr Brown is also concerned that parents are put off from seeking redress via the SEN tribunal process, for fear of escalating the issue further. From 2005 to 2010 the SEN Tribunal has reported a decrease in the number of cases being brought before tribunal.

He added:

“There is no denying that the process of achieving a statement of SEN is stressful. Most of the parents we speak to report that they really had to fight to have their child’s needs assessed because in initial stages their LEA simply did not want to pay for more specialist support for their child.

“Parents are often left feeling bombarded by too much information, full of technical terms and jargon they don’t understand. LEAs also often instruct legal experts such as barristers for the tribunal process, which makes it a real David versus Goliath fight.

“To help parents understand the whole SEN process, we host an annual workshop which focuses on the practical issues of how parents and advocates deal with LEAs and SEN tribunals. It helps attendees optimise the preparation of materials for use as evidence, and aim to vastly improve their chances of winning at a hearing.”

The next SEN workshop – From School Action to Special Needs Tribunal: your path to success – at Maple Hayes will be held on January 29, 2011. It will be led by two lawyers with vast experience of education law – barrister John Friel of Hardwicke in Lincoln’s Inn and solicitor Melinda Nettleton from SEN Legal. The cost of the workshop is £30, with all proceeds donated to charity.

For further information about the workshop or to book your place call 01543 264 387.

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