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Disabled inspire their classmates

Bringing in special needs pupils makes for a better behaved, more tolerant classroom. Jon Slater reports

TAKING on children with cerebral palsy or other disabilities may seem an extra burden to some mainstream schools, but a new report suggests all pupils ultimately benefit.

An evaluation of the Government's Schools Access Initiative found that 65 per cent of schools felt special needs pupils had made more rapid academic progress since entering mainstream classes. But a full 90 per cent reported better attitudes among other pupils - including greater tolerance and more care about conduct such as running in corridors.

The initiative pays local authorities to bring special needs pupils into the mainstream. The evaluation was carried out for the "Within Reach" campaign for inclusion run by the National Union of Teachers and disabilities charity Scope.

At Millfields primary in Wirral, on Merseyside, about a third of pupils are on the special needs register. Head Lynne Hayes is a strong supporter of inclusion. She said "It sounds twee to say special needs pupils helped their able-bodied peers, but it's true.

"Our able-bodied children will not have problems as adults workingwith people with disabilities.

"Pupils realise that they have to show particular care to certain children. And they accept that children with behaviour difficulties are treated differently when it comes to discipline."

The school is accessible by wheelchair and teachers wear microphones so that hearing-impaired pupils can participate in normal lessons.

Millfields is one of around 4,000 schools which will have benefited from the access initiative by 2002. Ministers have announced pound;50 million for the initiative next year, bringing the total spent on the scheme since it started in1996 to pound;125m.

The number of children with special needs in mainstream schools is likely to be increased by the Special Needs and Disability Bill currently going through Parliament, which will strengthen the right of parents of children with special needs to choose a mainstream school.

But the PWC report, which looked at schools in six education authorities, estimates that a further pound;525m will be needed to make all schools accessible to disabled pupils.

John Bangs, NUT head of education and equal opportunities, said: "The lesson here is that inclusion will work if you pay for it."

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