A tailor-made education

2nd June 2006 at 01:00
Current politically acceptable thinking says that inclusion is correct. My heart says it is correct. My brain and my experience tell me that it is not always correct.

Further, my brain and my experience tell me that what is good for a minority may not, sadly, be good for the majority and that there is a genuine conflict of interest which deserves to be examined coolly and unemotionally before we all move dogmatically to an untenable position, where not only the rights of the majority but also the rights of the minority are ridden over roughshod and the situation of the mainstream class teacher is made impossible.

Firstly, the difficulties faced by pupils with acute emotional and behavioural difficulties can either be beyond the pupils' control or are a result of learned behaviour or, more commonly, a mixture of both. I agree that long-term exclusion is no answer. The costs, both human and financial, of palming the problem off on to "society", leading automatically to a future of antisocial behaviour and imprisonment, are too high to contemplate.

We have to meet the needs of these pupils in a clear, uncompromising setting, with no mixed messages. But I question whether the correct environment for them is a mixed-ability class of 30 pupils of widely varying abilities, in a setting where staff are already stretched. Is it right that, in the name of inclusion, we should expose the vulnerable majority to the physical risks of contact with pupils with known violent tendencies and who have emotions beyond their own control?

Secondly, there is the issue of pupils who have physical disabilities. If these pupils wish a mainstream placement and have the understanding to learn what is being taught, then their place undoubtedly is with their peers in mainstream. I would argue, however, that the automatic placing of a such a child in mainstream classes to satisfy political correctness must be questioned. At all times, the environment should be that in which the child is most at ease.

Another very disparate group of pupils includes those with a wide range of syndromes and conditions ranging from autism, Aspergers, Tourette's, Fragile X and difficulties with fine and gross motor skills, to extremely severe speech and language, visual or auditory difficulties. These pupils benefit from and undoubtedly should be included in mainstream.

But the appropriate meeting of their needs, in spite of the efforts of even the most efficient learning support department, does place immense strain on the conscientious subject teacher and further lessen the teaching time available for the silent majority.

Thirdly, there are those pupils who have no physical or emotional and behavioural problems but do have extreme difficulty understanding the concepts being taught, even when very simplified material and in-class support with reading, writing and re-explanation is available. Some will benefit from mainstream, some will not.

I believe the only genuine solution is a situation where virtually all children's needs would be met by flexible provision within their own secondary school. All pupils would share a common uniform and name of school.

Each school would have a spacious, appropriately equipped and staffed base, from which the greatest level of inclusion could take place but where there would be room and facilities for a tailored education.

Each child's needs could be looked at individually to work out the most beneficial and forward-moving provision for that child, ranging from total mainstream provision to total base education.

Just as importantly, there would be an acceptance of the needs of the majority for an equally forward-moving and uninterrupted learning environment, and an acceptance of the need for staff to have the opportunity to deliver this.

Judith Moore

Former principal teacher (support for learning)

Perth Grammar

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