Challenged by inclusion

David Henderson reports on the reactions of teachers and parents so far

INCLUSION is good for pupils with special educational needs but not for the rest who lose out by their presence, according to a candid authority-wide survey of teachers in Stirling.

Only one in three teachers believes that including pupils in the mainstream helps others in the school. Yet the majority think inclusion does benefit pupils who would previously have gone to special schools.

Teachers generally support the inclusion drive, although they insist that it does not suit all pupils. Smaller class sizes would help them cope where a number of SEN pupils are educated together, they say in a survey carried out last May among 292 teachers from pre-school to secondary.

As expected, particular difficulties are reported with pupils who have behavioural problems and fewer with pupils who have physical difficulties.

The Stirling study again shows that only one teacher in three thought inclusion policies had a positive effect on themselves. Experienced teachers were more negative. "There is a widespread per-ception that mainstream teachers often lacked the confidence in their own abilities to effectively meet the needs of SEN pupils within their classroom," the study states.

A clear majority of teachers do not believe the needs of SEN pupils are being met in their classrooms. Views were more negative in secondary and more positive in pre-school and primary.

"The main reasons for the negative responses were the lack of support, the need for smaller groups and one-to-one work with SEN pupils, and the difficulties in teaching a range of abilities and giving adequate time and attention to all pupils," a report to the children's services committee states.

Most teachers say there is not enough support and want more time from learning support staff, better input from outside experts such as psychologists and speech therapists, increased information and training about specific difficulties and a better environment to meet special needs, including "time out" space to avoid affecting the rest of the class.

One to one, full-time support would help in cases where pupils have particularly challenging needs.

The majority of teachers found staff development useful but, surprisingly, 16 per cent had no training or extra information on how to cope with inclusion. Managing behaviour is the topic most want to see extended.

The authority notes that legislation has raised expectations among parents but there is an "inherent tension" between legislation and the "finite resources available to the council". Adapting premises is particularly costly.

IT WORKS FOR THE KIDS

Three-quarters of parents of children with special needs say inclusion has worked, although 13 per cent reported that it had had a negative impact.

Around half accept that inclusion may have affected other pupils in the school. Yet 67 per cent believe the impact has been positive on teachers.

Parents recognise that inclusion is not appropriate for all but say that increased support and awareness will help in the longer term.

Nearly 90 per cent of parents say their child has a record of needs and 75 per cent say they have an individual education plan (IEP).

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