Ministers must act on inclusion

19th May 2006 at 01:00
Inclusion isn't working. That is the unmistakable message from a study by Cambridge university published this week (page 16). Teachers are not nurses and should not be expected single-handedly to educate 30-odd children to the level demanded by the Government's targets while at the same time being constantly ready to perform medical procedures for which they have not been trained.

Nor should a quadriplegic child with a mental age of five or six be expected to cope in a mainstream history lesson about the Saxons because the school lacks the necessary resources to provide teaching which properly meets their needs.

Bad behaviour caused by the failure to give adequate education to children with special educational needs in mainstream schools is making life a misery for both pupils and teachers. It is time Tony Blair took one of those tough choices he is so fond of talking about.

The Prime Minister this week had the courage to admit that his government has not yet done enough to improve the education of children in care, and has acknowledged failing to ensure the necessary support for pre-school children in the most disadvantaged families (page 2).

A third mea culpa regarding children with SEN is needed, quickly followed by action to sort out the mess.

One option would be for Mr Blair to find his reverse gear and send children with the most complex needs back to special schools. This would alleviate the pressure on teachers, give children a more supportive environment, and meet the concerns of many parents.

Yet this would ignore the benefits to children with SEN of being educated alongside their peers and the general support for inclusion among many teachers.

The alternative - to make the current policy work for all - would require more staff in schools, comprehensive medical and mental-health support and real commitment from heads. Above all, mainstream teachers and assistants need better training to cope with complex needs.

A TES poll published last October revealed that many receive no more than a single day of SEN training. The cost of making inclusion work may be more than the public is willing to pay. Either way, ministers must act. The status quo is no longer an option.

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