Don't be scared of special needs pupils

21st July 2006 at 01:00
The furore over inclusive education is very worrying, as the recent critical report on special needs by the Commons education select committee will add fuel to the anti-inclusion lobby's fire.

Yet hundreds of schools across the country are successfully including youngsters with a wide range of abilities and disabilities. Thousands of children have benefited from being in an inclusive school. Some have had a bad experience in mainstream schools, but many have had bad experiences in special schools.

When things go wrong, the issue is to do with the way the school is led, managed and organised. Inclusion is not easy, but it is the future.

Inclusion does not mean treating everyone the same: it means meeting the individual needs of pupils. The school decides the best way to do this.

Surely this is what personalised learning is all about? For us to live in a safe, sustainable world we need to encourage our young people to build local communities based on mutual respect. We need to create a school that values each child for who they are and addresses the needs of all pupils.

Inclusion is all about change.

Schools cannot continue trying to put children into boxes so that they conform to the norm. We have to change to meet the needs of our pupils, not the other way around. Resources from statement support need to be used differently and not be attached with Velcro to one child and one learning support assistant.

This old-fashioned model is not helpful to the child or the school.

Instead, the funding needs to be used as part of a whole-school teaching and learning policy and be matched by other funds, including those for personalised learning. This way support can be made available for all the pupils who need it.

There is a misconception about the qualities needed by staff who are teaching and supporting youngsters with additional special educational needs. No special attributes are needed - just excellent teaching and strategies to reach those with most barriers to their learning.

Setting remains one of the biggest barriers to inclusion, and mixed-ability teaching is frowned upon in certain quarters because (we are told) the more able and talented pupils are held back. So many heads refuse to include youngsters with complex needs and learning difficulties because of the emphasis on exam success and league tables. These pupils are counted in the figures and can bring down the achievement percentages.

At my school, we are totally committed to including children with a wide variety of needs in our large comprehensive. We employ staff who are fully signed up to this vision and we ensure they are fully supported. Inclusion is not easy and our lives would be much easier if we selected out those who do not fit the "norm". However, the ethos and spirit of the school would be sadly depleted.

Our job satisfaction comes from valuing the achievement of every individual, not just those who achieve high GCSE grades. If inclusion can work in my school, it can work anywhere.

While schools and others continue to see disability as a problem, we will never get an inclusive education system. Segregated education serves to deepen a lack of understanding of difference, and is not helpful in creating a tolerant society. The Every Child Matters agenda supports inclusion in all its facets, and there is no better time to open your minds and your schools.

Kenny Frederick is headteacher of George Green's community school in Tower Hamlets, east London

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