Let's take the special out of special needs

15th July 2005 at 01:00
I know I am not the only one to be dismayed by Baroness Warnock's recent comments on inclusion. She seems to have missed the on-going debate and failed to follow the excellent work that has gone on over recent years. I am not sure on what evidence she based her comments, but I am in no doubt about the damage done.

This Government has always been fuzzy about inclusion. I don't think it ever really understood it and subsequently has not done much to promote it.

Like Baroness Warnock, ministers are confused about the difference between integration and inclusion. They mean very different things. Inclusion means schools do all they can to meet the needs of each individual, whatever those needs. It is not just about special needs but also means tackling racism, homophobia and bullying. It's a whole-school issue that does not label a child as different or "not normal". Integration is about playing around at the edges, putting special school and mainstream pupils together for short periods of time, working on projects before they all go back to their own environments. While government and others continue to see disability as a problem we will never get an inclusive education system. I hope that the powers that be do not buckle under pressure from a few politicians and a small group of parents. While we must take their concerns seriously, I don't think it is in anyone's interest to turn the clock back.

Inclusion is not easy but it makes sense. Of course it would be much easier for teachers to separate children according to their abilities, their disabilities and their strengths and weaknesses. They could then fit into the little boxes we insist on forcing them into. Why not go the whole way and segregate them by race, by religion, by language and by social class? All our children need to be part of their community and to separate them out of that community in special schools is too simple. Good teachers, supported by good teaching assistants, are very well able to plan to meet the needs of pupils with a wide variety of needs within the classroom.

Schools across the country, and indeed the world, have been successfully including youngsters with a wide variety of additional special needs within the mainstream for many years. Innovative practice across the country has improved the quality of teaching and learning for all pupils. It is personalised learning as it should be. Our job is to meet the learning, emotional and physical needs of all. Segregation is not an option.

The benefits of teaching in a mixed-ability classroom where pupils with additional needs are included is that teachers have to develop a wider range of strategies to get their message across. This means staffroom chat shifts from Big Brother to teaching and learning strategies and sharing good practice. Partnership teaching means just that - with teachers and teaching assistants planning and delivering together, all pupils benefit.

Inclusion is about building a society where all people are valued for who they are; where people learn to work together and support each other.

Disabled children, like all children, need to be part of their communities and should not be hidden away in special schools. It is a myth to think that it is only teachers in these schools that have the skills to get through to those with moderate or specific learning difficulties. When taking on inclusion in my own school, we quickly discovered that good teachers are good teachers, no matter whom they teach. Schools need to become more flexible and they need to change. Inclusion is here to stay and there is no going back.

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