Geraldine Tisdall, deputy head in charge of learning support and development at Angmering High School, says that a big benefit of including children with disabilities and difficulties in mainstream schools is that "the school is tuned in to the needs of all its pupils".
Angmering, in West Sussex, has 1100 pupils, 92 with statements of special needs. They have disabilities ranging from Asperger Syndrome to cerebral palsy. Students learn and play alongside one another, whether they are working out in the fitness suite or tinkering with computers at lunchtime. Sixty four pupils are nominally based in the Lavinia Norfolk Centre, which provides specialist equipment for pupils with hearing impairments and physical disabilities. But most lessons are taught in mixed ability groups in the main school, with banding in some subjects as GCSE approaches.
Once a year the whole school closes for two afternoons to give year tutors the chance to spend 15 minutes with every student and their parents. Together, they draw up an action plan and set new learning targets which will be reviewed when pupils' annual reports are written. "This quality time with the parents has an enormous impact," says Ms Tisdall.
Fortnightly visits by an educational psychologist have helped staff to develop strategies for children with depression and anorexia, as well as for pupils with learning difficulties. The school is now looking at providing counselling for children who are anxious or who have been bereaved.
Pinpointing potential difficulties before pupils start at the school is a priority. All prospective students and their parents have a short interview with one of the senior management team. Angmering's Year 7 team leader meets all the Year 6 teachers from the feeder schools and then compiles a database which includes national curriculum test results and pupils' strengths, and more informal information.
"If a child is going through turmoil at home, we want to know about it too. It all helps us to meet students' needs," says Ms Tisdall.
The school provides specialist help for very able students, as well as for students with difficulties. Mark Andrews, who is second in charge of learning support and development, organises challenge days on Saturdays with a range of open-ended activities to galvanise bright pupils.
Two very able sixth form students, Jonathan and Charles, are both in wheelchairs. Jonathan, who has muscular dystrophy, is hoping to read politics at Essex University. He doesn't think it would be possible to fit A-levels in with the daily hydrotherapy and physiotherapy sessions he needs if they weren't available on site. One student with cystic fibrosis who had a heart-lung transplant during Year 12 is now at Bristol University.
All staff receive plenty of expert support from the 18 specialist teachers in the learning support and development faculty. At the same time, support specialists all teach some mainstream groups so that they don't lose their credibility as subject specialists. Learning support assistants are attached to faculties, not to individual students. This makes them less likely to be over-protective of "their" pupils, so that it is easier for disabled students to mix with their peers. It also means that learning support assistants can build up expertise and good working relationships with teachers in particular subject areas.
But there is some tension between Angmering's inclusive aims and the demand for league table points. Although the school's A-level and key stage 3 results are above the national average, some faculties would like to see more setting for older students, to the concern of Geraldine Tisdall. "In a mixed ability group, pupils can rise to their own level. They will not develop social skills unless they are taught with their peers," she says.