Dilemma on special provision

11th April 1997 at 01:00
A call for balance in the debate on educating special needs pupils in mainstream classes was sounded by the president of the British Psychological Society at the society's annual conference in Edinburgh last weekend. Margaret McAllister, an educational psychologist in East Lothian, said that considerable resources were needed to make integration work and the results had to be dispassionately studied regardless of social or political pressures.

Psychologists could not automatically accept that integration or segregation is best. They had a key role in assessing children and in offering advice to parents and teachers. Even the Warnock report, which led to the 1981 integration legislation, had recognised that for some severely disabled children special schools were essential.

East Lothian, Mrs McAllister said, had a policy of working towards inclusion. Children should be educated as far as possible within their local community through a partnership with parents and schools. "Special education has come to have negative connotations. Quite rightly there is an emphasis on parental choice and children's rights and there is a view that segregated schooling involved a denial of individual rights and should be ended."

* Informal education at home, at least for primary children, could reach the same level of intellectual development as school study, according to an Australian psychologist. Alan Thomas, of Northern Territory University in Darwin, told the conference that 100 families who taught their children at home were asking to detail what they thought had been learnt. Most had begun in a structured and timetabled way. But "almost all came to appreciate the part that could be played by informal learning".

Many found the children themselves directing learning towards a less formal approach, fusing together unrelated bits of knowledge. "Topics which enthused children were often pursued for days or even weeks," Mr Thomas said."

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