Special needs showcase takes off

Special schools, which have felt increasingly beleaguered as the drive to educate pupils with special needs in mainstream classes has gathered pace, put on such a successful exhibition at Jordanhill campus of Strathclyde University last week that a showcase of their work is to become an annual event at the college.

Paul Hamill, Jordanhill's head of special educational needs, said the idea was to extol the good practice in special schools, show the schools work by their counterparts elsewhere, and "just as important" demonstrate to student teachers from other sectors what special schools are capable of doing.

"There is so much focus nowadays on what youngsters cannot do," Mr Hamill said. "This event is about what they can do."

White Gates Learning Centre in Lochgilphead was one of the 20 schools taking part, showing how children collected 912 pairs of spectacles for Africa while keeping their eyes firmly fixed on the learning process at the same time.

Jordanhill's students were "surprised and impressed" by what the pupils, who have profound and complex learning needs, had achieved. Elspeth Middlemass, the senior teacher, said: "With one or two exceptions, they didn't talk down to the children, which is something many adults find difficult to avoid because they make assumptions about what these young people can absorb."

Ms Middlemass said children benefited from the realisation that others were interested in their work. "It was good for the staff as well because, in a place like Lochgilphead, it is easy to become very isolated and you don't often get the chance to see what other people are doing." There are only four special schools in Argyll.

Mr Hamill said there was "no intention to mount any kind of challenge to integration. There will always be a need for both separate and mainstream approaches."

Special schools now increasingly cater for more severe learning problems as pupils with moderate learning difficulties are accommodated in mainstream schools, yet the range of work on display at Jordanhill was clearly not affected, from a project on Robert Burns by Park School, Kilmarnock to "religious education through the senses" by Clippens School, Linwood.

Mr Hamill said: "There is absolutely no doubt in my mind, and I have been in special needs now for 30 years, that if you internalise special educational needs and understand what it is that causes learning difficulties, it makes you a more effective teacher whatever your subject."

The last official figures for September 1995 show there were nearly 9,400 pupils attending special schools, an 8 per cent increase over two years. More than 4,900 were in special units attached to primaries and secondaries.

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