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Special needs plan criticised

PUBLISHED: 08:22 13 June 2006 | UPDATED: 11:00 22 October 2010

STEVE DOWNES

Hundreds of children with autism and Asperger syndrome could be condemned to years of school isolation by a "watered down" overhaul of special needs education in Norfolk, it was claimed last night.

Hundreds of children with autism and Asperger syndrome could be condemned to years of school isolation by a "watered down" overhaul of special needs education in Norfolk, it was claimed last night.

Campaigners say a blueprint for change has left out many crucial points that could boost schooling for youngsters with the two conditions.

But education chiefs defended the consultation document as a "concise summary" of plans - and pledged to "continue to improve" special needs provision in the county.

Asperger East Anglia and Norfolk Autistic Society were part of a group that looked into the particular area of need before the consultation document on future special needs provision was unveiled.

Anne Ebbage, senior education adviser for Asperger East Anglia, said: "The project group looked at all areas that affect the education of a child with an autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) and identified issues to be addressed.

"We are therefore concerned that the consultation paper appears watered down in relation to what was identified by the group. The areas identified must not and cannot be allowed to be forgotten about, as they are key factors for the success of the provision."

Mrs Ebbage added: "If they are, my fears are that parents will not get a real choice as there will be no change in provision at all. More children will be excluded, parents will pull children out of school to home educate, and more and more parents will try to get a statement of special educational need for their children."

She said the areas that needed to be addressed included:

lack of accurate and consistent data across Norfolk for pupils with ASD

inequality of access to provision

lack of co-ordination and consistency of support for ASD children

the need to train all school staff to give them a minimum level of knowledge and understanding of ASD and Asperger syndrome

the need to reduce the necessity to place pupils in specialist centres out of the county.

Michael Bateman, the council's children's services strategy manager, said: "We have worked closely with a range of voluntary and community sector groups including the Norfolk Autistic Society and Asperger East Anglia, who have helped shape these proposals. It simply outlines the key messages and proposals that will underpin our three-year strategy for special educational needs provision."

It proposes a school-based network of specialist units for youngsters with a range of problems including autism, hearing and sight loss, and learning difficulties - giving parents and children more choice.

Children and young people can take part in the consultation by visiting www.norfolkblurb.co.uk.

Others should visit www.norfolk.gov.uk/SENstrategy or www.YourNorfolkYourSay.org.

Alternatively call Suzy Ladd or Michael Bateman on 0844 8008001.


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