Pupils with special educational needs languishing in failing schools

Children and young people with special educational needs are more likely to be taught at failing or sub-standard schools, a report from the National Audit Office claims.

The NAO report, based in part on Ofsted inspection results, says that a school with a high proportion of pupils with special educational needs is, on average, 2.3 times as likely to be “poorly performing” as one with a low proportion.

Learning difficulty charity Mencap said it was concerned about this statistic, pointing out that it would inevitably include many children with a learning difficulty. “Mencap believes that all children have the right to receive a high quality education,” said children’s researcher Esmee Russell.

The figures were released as it emerged that special schools are also being hit by a recruitment crisis among head teachers. While turnover in senior staff at secondary schools has been described as “alarming”, more than one in five special schools had a head teacher vacancy in 2004-5.

Professor John Howson, author of the report on staff appointments in schools for Education Data Surveys, said the staffing of the special school sector “probably does not receive the attention is deserves”.

The NAO said poorly performing schools needed to give priority to improving school leadership. However, recruiting for schools is likely to get more difficult over the next few years as more senior staff choose to retire before the age of 60.

“This will impose some further strain on the labour market,” warned Howson. “The problems are most likely to affect the primary and special school sectors.”

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