Inclusion does not always work and we need to demystify special schools so that all children can have the education that they deserve.
This is the view of Nancy Gedge, a mainstream school teacher and the mother of Sam, who has Down’s syndrome. Writing in the 13 March issue of TES, she explains that although inclusion can work for some children with special education needs, for many others mainstream schools are simply not up to the job, through no fault of their own.
“I don’t blame the system or Sam’s mainstream school for the failure of inclusion,” she writes. “There was never an incident that tipped me over the edge. But, you see, because I am one of them – a mainstream teacher – I know things. I know that my profession, my wonderful profession that does its best under all circumstances, is too tired, too busy and under too much pressure.”
She says that, like other parents, she used to fear the alternative – the special school – but she writes about how her eyes were opened to how much more suited it was to her child.
“It took a while for me to realise that sending my son to a mainstream school wasn’t going to ensure his effective inclusion. It took a while for me to discover that the special school is a place of hope and joy and celebration of who we are, warts and all. And it took a while for me to realise that the special school is out there, at the events and in the local markets, getting involved and inviting people in,” she writes.
She explains that we can think of inclusion purely in educational terms when really inclusion is about every aspect of a life. It is in special schools, she says, that this broader inclusion can often be found, along with a rigorous and tailored education. More importantly, she writes, it is in a special school that her son truly feels happy.
“I don’t need an Ofsted report to tell me that Sam’s school is outstanding: the fact that he chose to wear his school uniform on Boxing Day is testament to that,” she writes. “He is always keen to go, no matter what.”