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Special needs system failing children - MPs say

Written by: Staff

LONDON, July 7 (Reuters) Thousands of children with special educational needs are being failed by a system in need of urgent reform, a cross-party group of MPs said in a report.

Pupils are often forced into mainstream schools which can't cope, while special needs schools are closing, parliament's Education and Skills Committee said yesterday.

''(The) system is demonstrably no longer fit for purpose,'' the report said. ''There is a need for the government to develop a new system that puts the needs of the child at the centre of provision.'' About 1.5 million children, or 18 percent of pupils in England, had special educational needs in 2005.

Provision for them varies widely across the country and needs ''radical improvement'', the report said.

The system is failing to cope with the rising number of pupils with autism or ''social, emotional or behavioural difficulties''.

''This is causing high levels of frustration to parents, children, teachers and local authorities,'' the report said.

The committee urged the government to take a ''completely fresh look'' at special needs education and to clarify the policy of sending children to mainstream schools.

''Meeting the needs of children with SEN (special educational needs) must be given the highest priority,'' committee chairman Barry Sheerman said. ''This should be the hallmark of a successful education system and a civilised society.'' The Conservative Party said the government was intent on sending children with special needs to mainstream schools regardless of their requirements.

''The evidence is overwhelming that the government is deliberately planning the closure of special schools,'' said David Willetts, Shadow Secretary of State for Education.

Liberal Democrat Education spokesman Stephen Williams said more money should be spent to improve a ''frustrating, legalistic and under-funded system''.

No comment from the Education Department was immediately available.

Reuters DH VP0417

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