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Special teacher in any language

Had Meinir Rees's daughter not suffered hearing problems when very young, her mother might never have moved into special-needs teaching - where she has been acknowledged as the foremost in her field.

Meinir, still overwhelmed at being named special-needs teacher of the year in Wales last term, is one of the few in the country capable of communicating with hearing-impaired children in Welsh and English.

"I found there was no one out there who could support my daughter in a Welsh-speaking capacity," she recalls.

"Fortunately, she has improved a lot. But the whole experience showed me that there was a huge need for people to be working in special needs."

Having previously been a technology teacher, Meinir undertook a master's degree and became a co-ordinator of special needs. Since joining Cardiff's Ysgol Gyfun Gymraeg Plasmawr on its opening in 1998, she has established a beacon of success in SEN provision which has radically affected the school's educational and social agenda.

"The fact that we do not have a special-needs unit means our children are taught in the mainstream," she says. "I believe children with special needs should be included in the whole of school society. Special needs is not an appendage - it's part of the school.

"If there's a child with a particular difficulty I try to put myself in the position of the parent of that child by asking myself what vision they would like to see in place."

The problems affecting the children she teaches range from hearing and visual impairments to dyslexia and autism. She collects detailed information on their needs while they are still at feeder primary schools.

"You have to be prepared," she says. "If, for example, a child coming to us is registered blind you cannot begin those preparations in the school in September.

"This approach also means you get to know the parents as well, plus the child knows there will be support waiting for them."

Meinir likes to think of her award as a tribute to the team spirit among staff at Plasmawr. She was nominated by technology teacher Elin Lewis, who joined the school last September.

"Children with special needs receive the same opportunities as the others and are so well looked-after," says Elin. "They are made to feel that school is something positive. The approach here was something I'd never come across."

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