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It's all about socialising

Friendship and feeling included are more important to children with additional support needs than ramps, specialist IT and extra staff, new research has found.

Accessibility is not just about the physical environment or what happens in class, according to more than 750 Scottish pupils surveyed. Instead, they felt social times playtime, lunchtime and school trips were equally, if not more, important because they provide an opportunity to establish friendships and develop self-esteem.

One heartfelt complaint of a secondary pupil using a wheelchair, for instance, was that he was unable to get into town at lunch-time with his friends. Failure to include pupils with additional support needs in social times, the report said, can result in them becoming isolated.

Staff also have a vital role, it said, acting as positive role models and making children feel they fit in.

The findings come from a three-year study by Scottish Borders in collaboration with the Children in Scotland agency. Pupils aged five to 18 from across the Borders gave their views on accessibility, inclusion and additional support in their schools. Access all Areas: What Children and Young People Think about Accessibility, Inclusion and Additional Support at School will inform the authority's accessibility strategy.

Making schools physically accessible was vital, said Bronwen Cohen, chief executive at Children in Scotland. But more challenging was to ensure all children are included in the social life of a school. "If pupils find it difficult to make friends in mainstream settings, this can have an impact on the success of other accessibility strategies," she said.

Ian Reilly, the Borders' implementation officer for the Disability Discrimination Act, said the study's findings would be acted upon. Improvements identified by pupils included the introduction of peer group supports; larger, less noisy dining halls that would be more accessible to pupils with physical disabilities and youngsters with hearing impairments or autism. They also asked for larger classrooms, quicker, more reliable lifts and wider corridors.

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