Fear of bullies is worst barrier to integration

DISABLED children want to be taken out of mainstream classes and put into special schools to escape from bullies, researchers at Edinburgh University have found. Bullying is the main factor cited by those who do not want to be made "inclusive".

The study, said to be the first of its kind to seek out the views of disabled children themselves rather than parents or professionals, will cause anxiety in Government circles at a time when ministers have statutory backing in the education Act for the "presumption" that special needs pupils should be educated alongside their peers.

Bullying was the one thing that all disabled children had in common."Disabled children were not always the victims either. Some children were bullies themselves and others hit back when harassed by non-disabled peers," Nick Watson, co-author of the report, says.

The research was undertaken in mainstream and special schools as well as in homes and leisure settings in the North of England and Scotland.

Children were interviewed individually and in groups and were asked to provide stories, poems and other creative work. More than 300 took part, and disabilities included physical impairments, visual and hearing impairments and learning disabilities. A common theme was the inability to gain access to buildings and some outside areas.

Some children were keen to deny their disability while attributing the label to others. Some described how being disabled meant not being able to do what they wanted. "Most children wee determined to show that their disability did not define them as people," Mr Watson says. "One child told us to go beyond the disability and just look at the person inside."

At school most disabled children had few opportunities for autonomy and were surrounded by adults for most of the day. "Their schooldays are dominated by interaction with adults rather than their peer group," Mr Watson says. "Where a child had a support worker this isolated them, particularly from their peers."

"We found most disabled children wanted to be within the world of other children but there were various barriers to full participation. These included physical barriers such as access to playgrounds and other facilities and the attitudes of other children who did not want to play with them", Mr Watson says.

Children who took part in the study often spoke of how they felt more capable and independent than they were given credit for.

"Disabled children are not powerless individuals," Mr Watson says. "Indeed most were happy and successful despite the difficulties they encountered. We need to listen to disabled children more and encourage them to put forward their own solutions to problems. If given the opportunity they are capable of empowering themselves in their encounters with teachers and other adults and peers."

The study, by Mr Watson and Tom Shakespeare, is part of a programme being conducted by the Economic and Social Research Council on "Children 5-16: growing into the 21st century".

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