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Special skills for special needs

Answers your questions

I am a parent governor, and like many others I get a massive number of complaints about some appallingly behaved children who disrupt the learning of others. I have become very much aware that some of these children have serious problems which should in my view be dealt with in special schools, but although there would be this option at primary age, there is less space here for older children with special needs. I don't know whether this is general. But it is surely not reasonable to expect teachers to deal with a few so seriously damaged children in normal classes. What can governors do? It is a growing problem and it affects all children.

I think there are many places where your remarks about less special-school space for older children might apply. (Remember, however, that adolescence compounds any problems.) But there is also the strong current of opinion over the past 40 to 50 years or so that the wide range of children's problems should as far as possible be dealt with in mainstream schools. I do not want to diminish what you say because I too have witnessed the occasional shock of a secondary school receiving a child changing to mainstream after being educated in a special school. There are also cases of extremely challenging behaviour in children without apparently identifiable problems. As pupils approach secondary age they need facilities for sport and recreational learning which only mainstream schools can provide.

The problem is complex and there are a few factors I must mention. There is first the point about special-school places. We can go on pressing for more options locally if we really think this is the answer. We can also make sure that our school has the benefit of all the options for individual help within mainstream, which may also mean putting on pressure where the local system of assessment and statementing is slow.

We can consider whether our teachers need more guidance in dealing with very challenging behaviour and press for it. There is no doubt that there are skills here which can be taught: help may have to be imported. We can look again at our behaviour policy with emotional and behavioural difficulties in mind and see whether it gives enough support for the individual class teacher, and also ask ourselves whether the school does enough to ensure parental co-operation. Not all the cases of extreme disruption come from a condition with a name, and the home attitude is crucial. We can consider as a governing body whether our own school needs a special unit - a physically separate area to which children with problems can be withdrawn for varying periods for sanctuary in small groups with specialised teaching. We may need more teachers with special skills and training to make this possible.

We are told after all that the proportion of children with attention deficiency is increasing alarmingly. On this subject perhaps I dare confess a strong personal anxiety about food additives which many share. They really have become suspect and in my very unscientific observation, sweets and some fizzy drinks seem especially involved. At least we can make sure that suspect items are not sold in our school and that there is ample material in health education to warn children of the dangers.

Questions for Joan Sallis should be sent to The TES, Admiral House, 66-68 East Smithfield, London E1W 1BX. Fax 020 7782 3202 or see expert where answers to the submitted questions will appear

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