Cash boost for special schools

15th May 2009 at 01:00
A pilot promoting inclusion has been so successful, two years' funding has been pledged

More pupils with special educational needs will be able to attend mainstream schools in Wales after a pound;4 million cash injection from the Assembly government.

Jane Hutt, the education minister, announced the extra cash - spread over two years - last week.

The announcement builds on the government's commitment to the inclusive philosophy at the heart of Unlocking the Potential, a three-year pilot under which pound;5.1m has already been made available to encourage local authorities to build better links between teachers in mainstream and special schools.

Estyn, the Welsh inspectorate, gave the scheme the thumbs up last month in a report that said the pilots had been a success: they involved more than 1,400 pupils.

The report also said the scheme had raised awareness of the good teaching that goes on in special schools and promoted an exchange of skills between special and mainstream teachers. Two-thirds of special school staff in the pilot had trained mainstream teachers to make their classes more inclusive for children with special educational needs (SEN), it said.

As a result, many mainstream teachers are more confident and need less help from other professionals and outside agencies.

Pupils benefited too, Estyn said, with increased contact between children of differing abilities leading to a better understanding of disability.

In one school, cited as an example of good practice by inspectors, an outreach service was set up through which mainstream teachers learnt to plan more inclusive lessons by observing their special schools counterparts.

Elsewhere, a special school worked with health services and voluntary organisations to set up a pre-school family support service.

Iorylle Aubrey, head of Ysgol Maes Dyfan in Barry, said the scheme had enabled one of her staff to teach Makaton - a form of basic sign language - to mainstream teachers. "We are delighted that this cash will allow us to maintain this valuable training," she said.

Ms Aubrey organised last week's annual conference of the All Wales Federation of Special School Headteachers in Cardiff, where the extra cash was announced.

"There was a determination from heads that these projects would continue whatever happened because they had proved so valuable," she said. "To get the extra funding shows just how valuable they have been and how much the Assembly government supports them."

Speaking at the conference, Ms Hutt said the funding would help children with SEN achieve their full potential. "The importance of special schools in an inclusive society cannot be underestimated," she said. "They prove that levels of ability aren't a barrier to achievement.

"By continuing to release the potential of special schools, we can ensure that learners in a range of education settings are equipped to achieve their goals."

Better deal for deaf

A group of deaf pupils last week called on Jane Hutt to improve education and services for deaf children throughout Wales.

The young campaigners presented the education minister with 40 posters created by deaf children as part of the "If I could change one thing ." campaign run by the National Deaf Children's Society Cymru.

The pupils' suggestions included organising more inclusive sports activities and after-school clubs for deaf children; giving all hearing children a better understanding of deafness; encouraging hearing children to learn to sign at school; better educational support for deaf children; and better hearing technology.

Jayne Dulson, director of the charity, said: "This has been a great opportunity for young deaf people to engage in politics and bring deaf issues to the public eye."

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