My name is Maria and I'm mad as hell

6th January 2006 at 00:00
I'm putting up my hand again. "I'm from a special school. How does what you're offering apply to children with severe learning difficulties?" As usual I'm told: "Oh, just adapt it. Do the same but watered down a bit.

Don't worry; we're developing this strategysystemsoftware for special children next."

This time I am on an assessment course, showing willing and turning up to a meeting in my small authority with my mainstream counterparts to say "Here I am", "I don't want to be left out", and "I want to learn". This time the software the assessment adviser is demonstrating doesn't cope with P (pre- national curriculum) levels; the predictions she is urging us to make are based only on level 1 and above; and the assessment she is talking about is based on tasks and tests. At the end, seeing me giving my hard look, she hastily adds: "Of course children can be disapplied from the tests in which case use teacher assessments." Well thanks; I already knew that. I just wanted to get better at assessments. I've come on a course about assessment, and you're the assessment advisory teacher; are you only interested in a proportion of the children in your authority? Wouldn't mainstream teachers like to talk about practical, innovative and meaningful ways to assess children? I'm sure they don't like to tick boxes any more than I do.

One of my colleagues who is new to special schools returned in indignant mood from a course on "communication". "They said nothing about non- verbal," she complained, "and yet that would have been interesting for all of us. I wasn't included a bit. Everything the tutor suggested, I had to adapt in my head." Yes, that's what we're good at: adapting. We adapted the national curriculum, we adapted the literacy hour and we're still adapting national and local strategies. I've been adapting things for 25 years! I feel like flinging open my window as Peter Finch did in the 1976 movie Network and yelling: "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" I'm an assessment co-ordinator, my pupils are pupils - why should we be an afterthought, always second best, watered down, added on?

The funny thing is that when we go on courses, everyone is interested in what the special school practitioner has to say, what our experiences are, what works; because if it works for us, it will work for anyone. Many of the practices that are now common in mainstream schools - visual cues, routine, breaking down tasks, and reward systems, for example - have come from special education. So it would be nice to go on a course where we gain more than we give. And it would be gratifying if central government and local authorities would stop treating special schools as an afterthought.

If they got it right for us, at the very beginning, with inclusive, relevant, skills-based curricular, then it would be right for everyone.

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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