Inclusion don't come cheap

26th March 2010 at 00:00

Fings maybe ain't wot they used to be. Lots of people hanker after the old days when kids were seen and not heard and the hardest belters got the softest seat in the staffroom.

Truth is that, while there is plenty wrong with schools today, there was probably even more wrong with them in the olden days.

But I wonder whether, when we closed the special school hoping to integrate children requiring additional support into ordinary schools, we made a big mistake.

Of course, maybe then we hadn't envisaged that every child, no matter how severe the disability, would go to the local school. And let's be fair, it is amazing how well it does work. Except . if we send every child with any additional support need to the local school, we are spreading our resources very thinly.

There will be pupils with visual or hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, Down's syndrome, autism, Asperger's, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia. How can we ever have the skills to help them all, let alone the staff? The aim is to integrate these children, but can we give them the education they need and deserve?

A special school is custom-built - a smaller, shallower swimming pool, a soft play area, a sensory room. There are musical instruments a severely disabled child can play and computers adapted for a child who can't control his or her movements. Dining halls are not the rammy most secondaries endure. And the curriculum meets the needs of the children, with physiotherapists and speech therapists on site.

Everything is differentiated as necessary. Socially, everyone is equal; friendships are made. In mainstream, not everyone is equal, and children with additional support needs are tolerated, or bullied.

Maybe I am a bit cynical, but I think finance comes into it. A special school costs a lot of money to run - maybe three times per pupil what a mainstream school costs. Supporting a child in a mainstream school will cost more than the ordinary pupil, but not three times more.

If we are to give children with additional support needs the fair deal they deserve, we should spend the same as it would cost in a special school. We need more therapists, support staff, resources. Staff involved need more training and, once trained, they must have the time to use their skills properly. Mainstream teachers need more time to differentiate the work in their classes.

Anyone who has worked with these children will know how wonderful they are - how uncomplaining, how cheerful, how loving they manage to be. They will know how hard they work, and how much harder they have to work in a mainstream situation - even with the support they need - than other children.

They enrich a school and do have a place in it - but it is a place with a price.

Penny Ward is a secondary teacher.

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