A clear plus for inclusion

25th April 2003 at 01:00
CHILDREN who would have once gone to special schools but are now included in mainstream primaries with the help of support staff make a positive contribution and allow other children to learn about disabilities, according to their Clackmannanshire teachers.

Heads say there is minimal impact on the class. Most of the included children enjoyed being in mainstream but some were worried about bullying in the playground and others had few friends outside the classroom.

As the national debate around the extent and success of inclusion gathers pace, an analysis by Muriel MacKenzie, a council psychologist, concludes that the inclusion support service has been largely effective in helping teachers take in pupils with additional needs.

The three-year-old initiative in seven primaries has now expanded to 24 children across 11 schools as parents and teachers begin to accept the value of support in mainstream.

Of an initial 13 children, the majority liked going to school, played with other children and thought the teacher made their work interesting, But one in four did not like playtimes and "worryingly, two children said that they played with no one at playtime," Ms MacKenzie records.

She continues in her report to the council: "One child suggested that playtime was cold and noisy, which interfered with her enjoyment, and another suggested that one other child stopped other children from playing with her."

Some pupils found the standard of work challenging.

Class teachers were generally positive, despite initial difficulties and suspicions. Some said there was no impact on the class, others that the new children had a positive effect. In contrast, some questioned whether an extra adult was helpful for other children or an added distraction, while one teacher said the pace of learning had to be slowed.

Most teachers felt their involvement with the outreach support staff increased their confidence. Some thought they developed new skills and improved their knowledge about inclusion. However, some complained of insufficient staff development and preparation and said that they would have benefited from work shadowing and practical teaching strategies.

Teachers also said they needed time to discuss roles and responsibilities between themselves and the outreach staff. Essential collaboration "tended to occur on the hoof at lunchtime or at the end of the day", Ms MacKenzie says.

Outreach staff recognised they were most effective when they developed strong collaborative relationships with class teachers but were aware of the tensions. They, too, noted difficulties finding time to talk about planning.

Parents were generally happy with the mainstream choice and the level of their child's academic progress and integration into the classroom but half were worried about reactions in the playground.

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