Martyn Rouse, director of Aberdeen University's social and educational inclusion project, argued that the inclusion of special needs pupils would be more successful if teachers with different skills worked more closely together. "One of the most segregated groups of people in schools are those who have the additional support for learning label," he said, underlining that he was referring to teachers as well as pupils. "Collaboration is about collaboration between adults too," Professor Rouse told a conference on inclusion last week.
He stressed that there were precedents for collaborative working between special needs and mainstream teachers, this having been done by the old Grampian Regional Council in the 1970s.
Professor Rouse felt that "real problems" remained for children with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties, and that there were persistent concepts of "worthy and unworthy children". He added: "We have many teachers who believe that education is a privilege."
He argued that whereas some physics teachers, for example, might be preoccupied with teaching the next generation of physicists, they should be working to make the subject enjoyable for all pupils.
Professor Rouse pointed to a "strange concept of ability" in many schools.
He argued that the notion of "potential" was problematic, as established by IQ tests. He said it limited expectations and ambition, and led to "deterministic views" about children's ability. "How do you know when you have reached your potential?" he added.
He also criticised the idea of special needs pupils "catching up", and made the case for assessment where "notions of personal progress are paramount".
He concluded that, as well as being the "right thing to do", dealing with exclusion and under-achievement was about "enlightened self-interest", as it would benefit society and the economy in the long run.