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Stuck in the wasteland of inclusion

PUPILS can be many things but sometimes they are nuclear bombs. They explode in classrooms, spraying pain and heat everywhere, then depart, leaving behind areas of inestimable destruction.

Talking to the wounded teacher afterwards is like being a guest in a boxing ring. With vivid recall and often powerful language, these teachers are only too willing to lead you around the scenes of the worst imaginable classroom shenanigans. They did this, they did that and from then on the lesson went pear shaped.

Teachers talk about all this failure not necessarily because they want to but because they have to. Talking lances the boil and the teacher can face the world again after another breathless humiliation.

In the demanding world of social inclusion, hassle in the classroom is increasing. In a recent TES Scotland editorial, the vital role of support for learning teachers was alluded to. How my heart beats with anxiety when I hear about some of the pupils who must now be taken into the bosom of mainstream schooling. How I speculate about the stress levels of teachers as they struggle to cope not just with these pupils with special educational needs but with all the other pupils in the class who inevitably receive less attention as a result of the social inclusion policy.

It's all very admirable in theory but in practice it's not providing a better system. So where should we point the accusatory finger? It has to be the age-old problem of doing it on the cheap. Special schools are biting the dust as I write and the money being released is not following the pupils into the mainstream. The pupils who are suffering are probably not the SEN pupils but the vast band of underachieving children in both the primary and secondary sector whose learning needs may not be so obvious and therefore our responsibility to them not so morally clamant.

The number of support for learning teachers throughout Scotland is not commensurate with need. When I telephoned the Scottish Executive to get some facts and figures on this matter, it proved to be such a demon of a request that I fell at the first fence - I didn't have the time to hang on the phone for a week.

But show me a headteacher - primary or secondary - who feels that the learning support needs of their pupils are being met and my reaction will be one of delight. Quality support for learning is essential if social inclusion is not going to descend into more of a debacle.

Words such as merely, scratching and surface spring to mind and lodge there. Every August first-year pupils come into secondary school and they have progressed little beyond what you would expect by the end of primary 1.

You don't need me to tell you that teaching these kids is a nightmare - most of all, because we all know that they are measuring up to be hugely disappointed by a system which does not take account of their needs. Not enough support for learning, teachers and classes which are still far too big - a breeding ground for frustration and the inevitable behaviour problems.

Once in anger, caused by my failure to put together a flatpack wine rack, I hurled it into the corner of the dining room and ripped up the instructions. Challenging behaviour which was rescued only by the DIY savvy of my son-in-law who constructed the offending article and provided the required support for learning. I imagine myself in the minds of these thousands of kids who are denied the realisation of their potential and I am scandalised that the Scottish Executive is failing these pupils.

Tell me otherwise, show me otherwise and I'll withdraw every word. But until then I'll maintain my so-sue-me face. We're in a wasteland and nothing ever grows there. Inclusion? I doubt it.

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