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Italy shows what a change of attitude can bring about

Like every system, there are pros and cons, David Henderson writes. Italy may lead on integration and display a love of children far beyond most countries but teachers are poorly paid and part-time education is the norm for many pupils with special educational needs.

Legislation passed in Italy 30 years ago means that only 3,000 children are in special schools and almost 123,000 in the mainstream. Records of need are established at the age of five and based on what children can do.

Margaret Doran, head of schools in Stirling, who made a study visit last year, comments: "One secondary head explained that inclusion is for everyone, not just children with disabilities. Comparisons across Europe show that levels of achievement for Down's syndrome children are highest in Italy."

She found a maximum of two chidren with special needs in a mainstream class of 25, supported by four educators. Support teachers have two additional years of training but receive no additional pay. Young people act as peer tutors and parents are often involved as helpers.

However, Ms Doran adds: "Part-time education is the norm for many as children leave school to attend hospital appointments for speech and language therapy and go home to rest for part of the week.

"Adaptive technology, which would allow children access to learning, was not well advanced. Learning was teacher directed, even in ICT where the teacher was the scribe for children with special educational needs."

Schools, funded centrally, were poorly resourced in terms of accommodation and materials. "Classroom walls were bare by Scottish standards," she says.

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