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Inclusion is not an easy option

THE article "Disabled fight get-out clauses" (TES, April 28) referred to the case of Zahrah Manuel. I am head of the school involved and I am dismayed we were not approached for our view.

I would like to highlight a number of points, all of which are supported by our governing body and the local education authority.

Whitefield school received Zahrah's statement of special needs from Camden, in March 1999 and we followed the statutory regulations. We reviewed the statement in detail and concluded that we could not meet her needs. At this time, Camden agreed.

Ms Manuel and Zahrah were invited to discuss the implications of the statement and the suitability of the school. The visit took place but Ms Manuel refused to discuss any of the considerations presented by Zahrah's admission.

No further communication took place between Camden, Ms Manuel and the school until we received a revised statement of Zahrah's needs, two days before the end of the summer term, naming my school. We appealed to the Secretary of State against Camden's decision to name us without due and proper consultation.

Ms Manuel was advised by the Department for Education and Employment not to bring Zahrah to Whitefield on the first day of term as the appeal was being considered. But Ms Manuel still brought Zahrah into school.

The Secretary of State subsequently decided that he was not minded to direct Whitefield to admit Zahrah nd instructed Camden to reassess her needs.

Ms Manuel then decided to issue Judicial Review proceedings against the school's decision not to admit Zahrah.

She also embarked on a strenuous high-profile media campaign against the school. When Camden finally completed the reassessment of Zahrah's needs, they named Hampstead school from September 2000 and considerably improved her in-school support. Whitefield was named up until July 2000, pending Zahrah's admission to Hampstead.

In view of the amended statement, the temporary admission and the negative effects of media pressure, we decided to admit Zahrah. Her family did not win a court ruling as you stated.

Currently, we are endeavouring to meet Zahrah's needs to the best of our ability. What is absolutely vital to note is that out decision not to admit Zahrah was based entirely on our commitment to the full inclusion of all our students into all aspects of school life.

We have an extremely diverse population of students, including a high proportion with special educational needs, emotional and behavioural difficulties, refugees and physically disabled students. The school has had two inspections praising our provision.

We are rigorously working to include Zahrah. This is proving very difficult for staff and pupils because of her complex needs.

Barbara Howse


Whitefield school

Claremont Road, London NW2

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