'Isn't it morally wrong to segregate pupils just because they have a learning difficulty?

5th May 2006 at 01:00
'Isn't it morally wrong to segregate pupils just because they have a learning difficulty? Many mainstream children have difficulties, too'

We're a confused lot in special education. Talking to my colleagues in the staffroom one day it became clear that, while we all strongly believe in special schools, we all strongly believe in inclusion, too. "Ideally," said Angela, "all schools would be inclusive. Everyone would go to their neighbourhood school, all their needs would be met and everyone would benefit; we'd have therapists and specialised teaching assistants, we'd have sensory rooms, soft-play rooms and art therapy rooms; there'd be facilities for science, PE and technology. We'd all benefit."

But... "We have children who have come back to us from mainstream. They often have low self-esteem, have been bullied and feel like failures. They should have been with our sector from the start. We have the dedicated staff, the skills and flexibility of approach that these children need."

Then again... "Isn't that an old-fashioned way to categorise people? And don't we have a strange mixture of pupils now in special schools; the severely autistic with challenging behaviours alongside vulnerable and fragile pupils who might have life-threatening conditions?"

Ah, but... "We have small numbers and flexible timetables so we can meet every child's individual need, whether it is to attend GCSE art classes in a mainstream school or to have intensive interaction, sensory integration, or any number of specially designed programmes and approaches."

However... "A real downside to a special school education is that the children are mixing with other special children; they need the model of typically developing children, the way they talk and play. We can't give them that in a special school."

On the contrary... "We organise mainstream contact for all of our pupils, plus we have a lot of speech and language therapy time and our whole curriculum is based on communication skills. They just couldn't do that in mainstream."

Well... "They might if they had the support and, anyway, isn't it morally wrong to segregate pupils just because they have a learning difficulty? What about the so-called mainstream children; many of them have difficulties. The dividing line seems so arbitrary. Anyway, wouldn't it be good if all the children in a neighbourhood went to school together and learned about differences and acceptance?"

Nevertheless... "There are children in our school who clearly wouldn't cope in mainstream because their medical or behaviour needs are so great. And how can a mainstream teacher include such a wide range? There would just be more streaming in mainstream and the so-called inclusion would be a matter of location..."

Yes, these were the thoughts in the staffroom one lunchtime. It sounds like a big group of us with differing opinions, doesn't it? Actually, it was just one teacher, but I think we all feel a bit the same. As I say, we're a confused lot.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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