Inspectors inspired by lessons that are 100 per cent successful

6th February 1998 at 00:00
Kelly and Helen, two ebullient teenagers, are swapping stories over lunch about their work- experience placements. Kelly has been working in a nursery, helping small children with their painting and swimming. Helen is a trainee office worker. Both have Down's syndrome.

In another part of the school, Robert, 17, is sharing a story with a teacher in the sensory room, a story supplemented by coloured lights, touch and sound. Robert, who is wheelchair bound, suffers from a degenerative brain disease.

These are examples of the range of abilities at Clifton Hill in Caterham, Surrey. About a third of the pupils cannot speak, and as well as a wide range of learning disabilities such as autism, Down's syndrome, and cerebral palsy, many have complex physical problems - some have to be fed through tubes, others suffer from fits.

The atmosphere is vibrantly positive, the result of a rock-solid belief that every pupil here, however disadvantaged, is entitled to a first-class and individual education and may be capable of far more than their early diagnoses might have indicated.

The inspectors were uncharacteristically profligate in their compliments to the staff: lessons are 100 per cent successful here, "the spiritual, moral, social and cultural development of pupils is of the highest order", acts of worship are "inspirational" , behaviour and leadership are "excellent", pupils' progress is "outstanding" and "all staff have high expectations of pupils; their praise, encouragement and energy lift pupils to achieve at the maximum of their potential.

Headteacher Helen Norris, whose own 17-year-old son has Down's syndrome, emphasises the importance of the weekly meetings with parents. "Parents are often very frightened about the future and need help as much as the children, while the staff need to build up a rounded picture of the child's life. "

She has reservations about the Government's Green Paper on special needs. While inclusion is an excellent principle, she says, she doubts whether the true cost has been appreciated.

"We've got to raise awareness that inclusion is not just about inclusion in education," she says, "but inclusion in society."

Josephine Gardiner

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