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27th October 2000 at 01:00
Multicultural communities have a particular set of inclusion concerns, says Sharam Gill

At the first of our local SEN Commission meetings recently I asked why there was no mention of our ethnic minority communities. The officer mumbled something then said that surely we were looking at special needs and not multicultural education. "Not multicultural education," I ask you, here in Wolverhampton, with our population make-up and race relations history. We ought to know better.

What I was getting at was how could we be sure we were actually reaching the traditionally harder-to-reach communities such as minority ethnic groups; that our services were sophisticated enough to allow for linguistic and cultural differences so that all our people had access to full information; and that we did not, through ignorance of differences, misdiagnose conditions or through ignorance of disadvantage throw up barriers to access.

In my line of work - race relations - I deal each term with a string of parents highly alarmed about the school wanting their child to see a "psychiatrist". I know this is not peculiar to minority communities but am convinced that these groups have access to less information on the issues and services of special educational needs. It is invariably seen as a negative matter. They are not given enogh basic information and are not drawn into the debate enough.

There is a genuine fear that minority ethnic children are going to be held back simply because of the colour of their skin. This perception is widely held. It is a reality that has to be dealt with. African Caribbean boys are believed to be too readily labelled as behaviourally difficult, and Asian children are believed to have needs missed, or to have their cognitive abilities unrecognised because of possible difficulties with English. How many authorities are able to assess children in their first language where this is not English? Even those like Wolverhampton that can can only make a stab at it.

I am also concerned about the lack of support minority ethnic families get when it comes to statementing. My experience is that when it comes to securing your rights under this process, in getting extra resources or successfully mounting appeals, you essentially have to belong to the articulate white classes.

The right to a full education that meets the child's individual needs, especially when that includes special educational needs, must be extended to all of us regardless of our background.

Sharam Gill works for the Wolverhampton Race Equality Council and has previously worked for the Advisory Centre for Education in London

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