Genuine inclusion;Opinion

15th May 1998 at 01:00
Many parents of children with special needs want them educated in mainstream schools. A school does not, however, become "inclusive" - a goal much sought and discussed by special educators - simply by placing a group of children in its midst. Being "inclusive" demands equal treatment for all pupils and takes the notion of "comprehensive" to its limit. But it also emphasises individualism, for every child's education must be differentiated and "special".

The debate about inclusive education gains political point from the Government's targets. The Education Minister last weekend warned (Page 4) that schools must not discriminate against pupils with special needs in order to hit their targets. Instead, targets must accommodate special needs in both mainstream and special schools. That is difficult, as Brian Wilson indicated. The targets model is already subject to stresses as headteachers study its relevance to their school's situation. Special needs are another pressure point.

A conference in Edinburgh on interrupted education looked at how groups of pupils can be easily ignored when they do not fit into such recognised categories as physical and mental handicap or disruptive behaviour. Travellers' children and teenage mothers were among the groups discussed because their education is interrupted and they pose problems for school managers and teachers. Yet they are also a test of inclusiveness.

The Government has set out a strategy for tackling social exclusion. If it works, it may reduce the problem of exclusion in the narrower sense of banishing children from a school. Mr Wilson says that sanction should be used only as a last resort. How often schools exclude remains in doubt: the statistics have proved hard to collate. But at times the needs of the majority of pupils have to take precedence over the problems posed by a disruptive minority. Otherwise there would be anarchy.

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