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Inclusion policy leads to special school closure

Newham has moved a step closer to its goal of enabling every physically or mentally handicapped child to attend a mainstream neighbourhood school.

The east London borough, which has already closed five of its eight special schools, last week announced that two of the remaining special schools are to merge while the third, Eleanor Smith, is to concentrate solely on support-service work.

The borough's mainstream schools have already absorbed about 850 pupils with statements of special need, but the council has said that its ultimate goal is to make it possible for every child, whatever special educational needs they may have, to attend their neighbourhood school, to have full access to the national curriculum and to be able to participate in every aspect of mainstream life and achieve their full potential".

The policy is based on the belief that inclusion is a logical extension of comprehensive education, and that good practice in teaching children of different abilities helps to raise educational standards for all pupils. The borough says that it can boast of a number of popular, successful schools which have large numbers of children with special needs.

The two special schools to be amalgamated in 1999 - Beckton, for children with profound and multiple difficulties, and John F Kennedy, for pupils with severe learning difficulties - will become the only special school in the borough for the foreseeable future. But as the pupils transfer to mainstream schools, the merged school's role will change to a support service.

Peter Aylmer, principal policy and planning officer for Newham, said: "The policy is not intended to save money. We are recycling the same resources. It is about children's rights. The policy is widely understood and appreciated in Newham now.

"We had many parents in the early days who did have concerns but when they saw the difference of mainstream placements with good strong support, they swung very solidly behind the policy."

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