The successful integration of mainstream and special needs pupils is a testament to the community spirit in the county, writes Harvey McGavin
Paul Rangecroft, headteacher of Studfall junior school in Corby, had a dramatic introduction to the town. When he came to be interviewed for the post 21 years ago, the quiet of the afternoon was broken by huge blasts in the distance.
"They were the explosions as they razed the steelworks to the ground," he recalls. And he soon became aware of the scale of the destruction. As unemployment in the town hit 30 per cent and people left in search of work, Paul saw his school roll shrink from 300 to 220.Today, it stands at more than 450, a testament to the success of North-amptonshire's policy of special needs integration. Ten years ago, Corby closed its special schools, a decision that was "partly political, partly expedient and partly visionary," says Mr Rangecroft. "In terms of resources, we just assimilated them. It was a case of 'this is a good idea, so just get on with it'."
The county has merged special needs and social inclusion units into one department. This brave move was praised by the Office for Standards in Education which described its work in the field as a key strength.
Studfall became a school of designated special provision and 40 of the school's 468 pupils are statemented, But you would be hard pushed to identify them. Children who have Asperger's syndrome, cerebral palsy or are profoundly deaf learn alongside mainstream children. Even with a high proportion of children with learning difficulties, Studfall has managed to maintain a respectable mid-table position in the national league tables, with a 69 per cent pass rate in key stage 2 English, 67 per cent in maths and 90 per cent in science.
"We don't have a special educational needs co-ordinator - we have an inclusion manager," he says. "We don't talk any more about special needs kids. I didn't know we were an inclusion school until the last Ofsted report. We were just doing the best that we could with the facilities that we had.
"It doesn't mean you treat every child the same - if they need physiotherapy or help with language or time out, then we give them that. We try to treat children according to their needs."
"Inclusion has added to the environment of the school. Additional funding means we can put more support in, but that support is used for everyone's benefit. They also benefit from the fact that we have kids who are different because as a culture we are all different."
The school has also taken its inclusive philosophy to the surrounding community by, for instance, making a trained counsellor available to parents as well as children.
Studfall is in an estate with a high crime rate and pockets of deprivation, and its people-first philosophy has gone a long way to breaking down the attitudes of previous generations who failed in, or felt failed by, their education.
"People might not be interested in education, but they are always interested in their children," says Mr Rangecroft, adding that people pulling together saw Corby through the hard times.
In Studfall, this camaraderie extends to regular charitable fundraising by the children, and an active school council that has just chosen a bright lilac and lime colour scheme for its washroom. Mr Rangecroft is at pains to portray the school's achievements as a model for special needs inclusion as unremarkable. But maybe itis no coincidence that it succeeded in a town that has developed a strong spirit of togetherness.