Glasgow Herald, 17/03/2003
Scores of Scottish children with special needs face being trapped in the wrong educational programmes because the right to appeal against some assessments is being removed, it was claimed on March 16.
A group representing parents whose children have a range of special educational needs are mounting a campaign against a draft Bill which, the group claims, will weaken their statutory rights.
The parents say children will be stuck with the assessments, carried out by local authorities, which determine the provision pupils receive for conditions such as autism and dyslexia.
The parents say the draft Bill will also effectively offer local authorities a number of "get out of jail free" cards, or opt-outs.
With less than two weeks to go before the end of the consultation period, the Record of Needs Alert (RoNA) group is fighting to bring their cause to the attention of parents, saying that few have been alerted to the consequences of the draft Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Bill.
Despite meetings with Cathy Jamieson, Scotland's Education Minister, RoNA is unconvinced by her argument that the Bill will increase rights of parents and children with special needs.
Steve Law, who has a 10-year-old son with complex additional needs and autism, claims that the Bill removes the authorities' duty to conduct a multi-professional assessment of needs. Instead, they will be obliged to seek information from other agencies only when they think it necessary.
Law also said that the Bill removed the duty on authorities to establish which children had educational needs requiring continuing review and a record of needs. Instead, many who have, or would normally get, a record of needs will be classified as requiring "additional support needs." They will not be entitled to a "co-ordinated support plan" (CSP). Without this plan, they have no legal rights of appeal.
Law said that a new mediation service would be introduced, but its decisions were not legally binding, and a new tribunal system would only be available to children who have a CSP. The authorities would be entitled to be represented by their own legal team. Parents and children would not be entitled to legal aid, posing a financial problem, Law said.
He added that the tribunal would have jurisdiction only over education authorities, so it would not be possible to appeal against some of the elements of a CSP which were provided by a health authority.
Sunanda Docherty's son, Cal, an eight-year-old who is autistic, attends Struan House School in Alloa, a special school. He has been attending on day-release for a year, but it was only after a legal battle that he was placed there.
Docherty has misgivings about the proposals. Cal has a record of needs but, Docherty said, it was "dubious" whether, under the proposed legislation, he would get a CSP.
A spokeswoman for the Scottish Executive said: "It is fundamentally wrong to suggest the draft Bill will weaken the rights of parents and children with additional support needs. It seeks to strengthen, modernise and streamline the current system for identifying and addressing the needs of all children who face a barrier to learning and will ensure they get more support, not less."