Knowing the ropes;Subject of the week;Education Books

27th February 1998 at 00:00
The Government is determined that children with special needs should be taught in mainstream classes. But are its plans best for all pupils? Gerald Haigh examines books dealing with inclusive teaching

Nearly 20 years ago, a fellow teacher pointed out that our school was all on one level, with wide corridors and open plan classrooms. "With just a few alterations we could take some children with wheelchairs," he said.

He was right both in principle and practice, but such were the times that nothing came of it, and we never did become The Inclusive School described by Gary Thomas, David Walker and Julie Webb in their book of that title.

At the beginning of this century, they suggest, the future of the school system was in the balance: "A significant body of opinion . . . saw neither purpose nor value in segregation". It was the opposite philosophy, though, that won the day. We inherited the view that "special schools provided a sensible way of meeting the needs of a minority of children, at the same time as safeguarding the efficient education of the majority in the mainstream . . . no serious challenges were made to the idea until the mid-1960s."

The book goes on to explore, with case studies, the philosophical and practical arguments for inclusion. Many of the conclusions are familiar - that funding has to follow the pupils because you cannot have inclusion on the cheap, for example.

And there is the forthright stance on how you use the extra support provided for a pupil with special needs, an issue that is often a matter of debate within schools. "It is consistent neither with the ethos of inclusion nor with the evidence as to its efficacy in practice that supporters should work only with designated children," the authors state.

Given the Government's determination to promote inclusion, exemplified in the recent Green Paper, Excellence for All Children, this is an important and timely book, which deals not only with the wider political scene but with the fine detail of managing inclusive learning at school and classroom level. Those whose task is to make inclusion work will find much to encourage and help them here.

Alan Dyson and Alan Millward remind us in Inclusive Education: a Global Agenda, edited by Sip Jan Pijl, Cor J.W. Meijer and Seamus Hegarty (Routledge pound;45 hardback, pound;14.99 paperback), that "integration is a deceptive and slippery concept". Reflecting the book's international theme, they identify two ways of looking at integration.

There are those nations such as Germany, England and Belgium that see it as extending special education methods into the mainstream, and others such as the United States and the Scandinavian countries that see it from the other direction, as a reform of mainstream education. It is this latter perspective, argue the authors, which should guide legislation and practice.

Dyson and Millward, academics from the University of Newcastle's Special Needs Research Centre, develop their ideas further in New Directions in Special Needs (Cassell pound;45 hardback, pound;15.99 paperback), which they co-wrote with Catherine Clark and David Skidmore. This book, one of Cassell's comprehensive Special Needs in Ordinary Schools series, shows just how difficult it has been for mainstream schools to modify their deeply institutionalised separatist methods of withdrawal, special units and the like, and to move to a whole school, fully inclusive, approach. It discusses how this progression might be (and sometimes has been) made and analyses the issues and tensions that arise in the process.

Similarly powerful in its advocacy of inclusion is Social Devaluation and Special Education by John T Hall (Jessica Kingsley pound;16.95). His chapters on "the politics of statementing" and on advocacy support for special needs pupils will provoke rueful smiles of recognition not only among parents fighting for inclusion but also among governors battling for individual pupils in their schools.

One of the problems with segregation in education is that it gives legitimacy to the idea that there is a "mainstream" and that special schools, units and centres work outside it. Extend this to the pupils and you end up believing that there is a core of conforming pupils who are normal and a fringe made up of others who are abnormal.

In Special Kids for Special Treatment (Falmer Press pound;15.95), Helen Phtiaka describes the consequences of this in a case study comparing the behaviour of two groups of difficult adolescents, one in a mainstream school, the other in a special unit.

What makes this book so readable and thought-provoking is its focus on the pupils themselves, and the extent to which we are allowed to hear their voices.

Anyone who has dealt with difficult pupils knows that, above all, many of them are unhappy to a point which becomes disturbing and frustrating to the adults trying to deal with them.

Among the many examples is that of Mark, who constantly misbehaves in class in a desperate attempt to win the approval of his peers. Thus, after a foolish incident in science: "Again, Mark's efforts to make the class laugh and join in failed quite dramatically".

The mainstream school, Ms Phtiaka finds, does not do well by such pupils. A special unit, on the other hand, may win their loyalty but at the expense of shutting them off from the conventional curriculum and consequently from the opportunities to be had from succeeding in it.

The mainstream school, she concludes, has to find a way of dealing with all its pupils. There is expertise in special education, she suggests, that could be brought to bear on this. "What is now needed is the shifting of this knowledge and skill on to the problem school."

The actual practice of including children with behavioural difficulties, however, is a huge challenge. A short policy paper from the National Association for Special Educational Needs, Inclusion or Exclusion, has contributions on this issue. The association is a rich source of publications on all special needs areas. The reasonably priced series of NASEN handbooks is particularly useful, and recent titles include A First Handbook of IT and Special Educational Needs (pound;8 from NASEN House, 45 Amber Business Village, Amber Close, Amington, Tamworth B77 4RP).

Managing special needs at school level, particularly since the advent of the Code of Practice, has increased dramatically the workload of the special needs co-ordinator (Senco). Among the many special needs titles on the David Fulton list is The Senco Handbook by Elizabeth Cowne (pound;15.99). Filled with practical ideas, much of it in the form of photocopiable pages, this is shortly to appear in a second edition, taking account of recent developments such as the Government's Green Paper.

Coming later this year is a Fulton book, Effective In-Class Support, by Stephanie Lorenz (pound;11.99), which tackles the management of support assistants, a major Senco responsibility. One of the consequences of inclusion is going to be an increasing demand from teachers for information about particular special needs. David Fulton's list is strong in this area, with a range of books on such topics as visual impairment, Down's syndrome, Rett syndrome, Asperger syndrome, deafness and autism.

And from Routledge, Children with Visual Impairments, by Alec Webster and Joio Roe (pound;45 hardback pound;14.99 paperback) is specifically aimed at "the mainstream teacher with little or no specialist knowledge". This is a readable and practical volume and an excellent resource for a school expecting the arrival of a visually impaired pupil.

Finally, as an inspiration and reminder of the difficulty of defining the boundaries of special needs, there is Pooling Ideas by David Nicholls (Trentham Books pound;9.95). Nicholls taught art at a school for children with physical disabilities for 20 years.

For half that time he developed the use of computers in a way that allowed his pupilsto overcome their physicallimitations. This description of his work, and the many magnificent colour illustrations, is a revelation. Not only is it a good book to look at, it also works well as a practical handbook on the use of computers in the art room.

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