For and against

25th February 2000 at 00:00
* Sheila Riddell, professor of social policy (disability studies), Glasgow University, chair of the Riddell Committee: "The presumption in the education bill is very useful in emphasising the spirit of the law but it probably does not change the present situation radically, though it does underline to parents that they can express a preference for mainstream placement for an SEN pupil. It emphasises the new spirit but is not going to cause major ructions in the system.

"I agree with the Scottish Executive's position that parents have to have choice. It's a question of adequate resources for SEN and they're more likely to be placed in mainstream education in the future because local authorities will do more to make mainstream schools more welcoming to SEN pupils.

"The pace of change is something that parents have to feel comfortable with and we're seeing a gradual move away from special schools to SEN provision within mainstream.

"Social inclusion means that education is for all pupils and not just some, but if attempts were made to close special schools overnight this would cause a backlash. The change should be and is led by parents and that is the spirit of education provision in general at the moment."

* Anne Harkes, management committee, Equity Group: "As a group of disabled people and parents of disabled children we were looking for something stronger than a 'presumption' towards inclusion in the education bill. We want mainstream education with support as a right. It's a matter of equal opportunities, of civil rights.

"We are not saying 'close special schools' but believe that in time this will come. No pupil should be separated from mainstream education. We need to look at each child when it is three or four years old and see how to sustain that child in its own community. We are only talking about two pupils per primary school. It's not a huge influx. It has to be done properly and everyone, including teachers, will need supported. Fears need to be addressed but we are not talking rocket science here. Full inclusion is not beyond the realms of possibility.

"The social benefits for the SEN pupil are enormous and the educational benefits shouldn't be any less. We are not talking about dumping pupils in a class of 30. Children of different abilities already work in composite classes or mixed groups.We already have expertise. It's about working together. It's about people accepting that no school is working its best until we have full inclusion."

* Dr Fernando Diniz, lecturer In education, Moray House, Edinburgh University 'The way the terms integration and inclusion' have been used in the last two decades is confused. If we are now using the term inclu- sion', dues that mean that special education is the umhrella for all included pupils?

oMr Blunkett wants all pupils to be included', hut will main- stream education remain the same? Are thereto he levels of acceptibility (for an SEN pupil to enter mainstream education)?

There is no common understand- ing of the term SEN.

oAnything is a step forward from the lust 20 years and I'm heartened hy the open dehate. I'm generally in favour hecauseofthe overall message, hut we're still not addressing the specifics.

Whether special schools are to he retained depends what else is an offer. To say there will always he special schools is a cop-out. It's not comprehensive education if you still have a 'special sector'.

oFor real inclusion we need to change the framework and look seriously at curriculum entitle- ment. As it stands even profes- sional training is separate. I think it is practical to train every teacher to hr a teacher of a range of children.

oIdeally I want total inclusion and not total 'integration'. Inte- gration has lost its meaning. Spe' cial education is disempowered and that's what disahled people call "institutional discrimivation'.

* Alan Maclaughlan, head of Burnhouse School, Whitburn: "We were set up only two and a half years ago as part of the Government's inclusion policy. Our pupils have social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. They come here to have the issue addressed and are then returned to their mainstream school. To include you have to exclude to address the behavioural issues.

"There will always be a need for special schools but learning support departments will have to grow so that pupils like ours can go back into mainstream schools.

"The less isolation there is, the better. Our pupils are used to being cast aside as failures but here we work hard on self-esteem, monitoring our pupils weekly. Working in smaller groups definitely helps develop a positive approach. What we do fits in with a social inclusion ethos. Our target is to become a centre of excellence through our team work."

* Lillemor Jernqvist, head of Craighalbert School, centre for motor disability pupils: "To move one of our pupils into mainstream education takes years of preparation. The principle here is that unprepared children should not be going into unprepared schools. Pupils have to be equipped to go in as equals.

"Our pupils have motor disabilities and they learn motor skills through a vigorous daily process which would be difficult to achieve in a mainstream school. In conductive education, which we provide, the distinctive feature is that the team of conductors teaches each child everything they need from looking, listening, standing and walking to reading and writing. It's joined up working which addresses the whole child and is all-day learning.

"We believe the Scottish Executive has a moral commitment to support us. There will always be a need for special schools."

* Paul Hamill, head of special needs, Faculty of Education, University of Strathclyde: "I'm for inclusion as far as is physically possible but only on the principle of the individual pupil's needs. The theory of inclusive education is excellent but not regardless of the children's needs.

"There will always be a need for special schools and a lot of mainstream schools have a way to go to take on SEN pupils.

"Some teachers regard the pressure to raise attainment as in conflict with social inclusion but it's not necessarily so. The inclusion of more SEN pupils could be a positive force because you'll be altering the system and sharpening practice for the benefits of all pupils. Most SEN pupils' difficulties are with the curriculum, so it would need to be more accessible.

"We would need to be more co-ordinated and the whole concept of learning support would need to evolve dynamically, bringing together for example guidance and learning support as one department, rather than guidance having to deal with behavioural difficulties and learning support addressing learning difficulties separately. It's only logical.

"There would need to be more staff development. We're not talking about fundamental restructuring but... winning hearts and minds, to develop an inclusive school culture.But... the majority of SEN pupils are already in mainstream schools. What they're proposing has been happening."

* David Lowrie, Craighalbert parent: "I have a three-year-old son with cerebral palsy at Craighalbert and I hope he is cognitively bright enough to go into a mainstream school at six or seven. It's a hope, not something I'm hell-bent on.

"The less able a child is, the more prepared a school has to be. I'm in favour of social inclusion but not for the sake of it. Mainstream schools need to be resourced properly in terms of materials, staff training and numbers, to deal confidently with special needs.

"A special unit within a mainstream school can make a child more socially excluded. My understanding of inclusion is that the SEN pupil should be educated in a mainstream class. Anything else would simply highlight the differences and the SEN pupil is better off at a special school as part of the whole peer group."

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