Inclusion calls for imagination

It is hard to imagine what life is like for teachers with classes containing more than a third of pupils with special needs. But our survey shows that nearly 20 per cent face this reality every day. Many of them wrongly feel guilty about their difficulties in coping with these very vulnerable children.

For the past 25 years, schools have struggled to fulfil the intention of the Warnock report, which urged the inclusion of these pupils in mainstream classes. Lady Warnock's recent recantation has caused everyone in education to take stock. The efforts of local authorities to promote inclusion without extra funds and the subsequent closure of special schools has left us with a shambles of a system that is costing pound;4.5 billion a year.

Many teachers are having to cope daily with pupils ill-suited to ordinary classes.

Ministers, while publicly maintaining their belief in inclusion, have quietly begun to row back on a policy that has clearly been taken too far.

Earlier this year Lord Adonis, the schools minister, issued guidance to local authorities that they should not move at full tilt towards inclusion or towards closing special schools. Instead, they should look to more imaginative solutions such as federating or linking the two types of school so that special needs pupils can mix with their peers but not all the time.

Lord Adonis deserves credit for his courage.

But it is a pity that the Government has stopped short of a review of the way in which special needs pupils are assessed. Our survey's findings that a third of primary teachers have pupils who have waited more than a year for the completion of statements is worrying. At present, local authority statementing officers often occupy a lowly position. They should be senior officers with the authority to make things happen and to decide who receives a statement.

As a society, we should be judged by how we treat our most vulnerable members. It is too important an issue to be left to a postcode lottery.

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