'What, not where', is more important in special needs support, says think-tank

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The priority for children with special educational needs must be ensuring that they receive the right support rather than inclusion in mainstream education at all costs, according to a report by the think-tank Policy Exchange.

Special Educational Needs: Reforming provision in English schools says that independent panels should be set up to assess the individual needs of SEN pupils and parents should have a guaranteed choice on types of schooling.

The report's author, Ralph Hartley, said, 'We need to focus on making sure children have the help they need so they can learn - not on where children are educated. The upcoming SEN Green Paper is an opportunity for the coalition Government to make sure this happens.'

The report argues for a new national assessment criteria to be set up and for independent assessment panels to apply this locally.

'Ministers should make sure there is a flexible range of provision available at a local level for parents to choose from,' Mr Hartley said. 'At the same time, parents need to have clear information about what their child can expect from certain placements and what other children with similar needs have achieved in that school or setting.

'That's empowering - no longer should parents be forced to fight local authorities. If parents aren't happy with the way services are being run at a local level, they should be able to influence this by being involved with deciding who runs these services - the local authority, a third sector organisation, a private organisation, or any from a range of alternative providers.'

Policy Exchange's head of education, James Groves, said, 'The Government shouldn't reject the notion of inclusion. The last Government thought that inclusion was about where a child is educated. This Government should recognise that it is about the quality of education they receive, and the outcomes they achieve.

'The evidence clearly shows that children with SEN can thrive and achieve in any number of settings. Everyone needs to have high expectations. The Government should work to create a system that ensures there is a flexible range of provision available at a local level, underpinned by the expertise of teachers with advanced and specialist skills and knowledge in SEN.'

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