Niggardly truth about inclusion

14th October 2005 at 01:00
It is no surprise that teachers, whatever their beliefs about inclusive education, find coping with special needs in mainstream classrooms difficult without additional training and classroom support (see pages 1,4, 5 and 21). Growing numbers of special needs are behaviour-related. At the same time, teachers feel under increasing pressure to achieve academic results at all costs in a curriculum which makes few concessions to what one current television programme calls "the unteachables".

So-called "emotional and behavioural difficulties" are often related to children's upbringing and are not evenly distributed. Yet schools get the blame from inspectors when normal disciplinary measures don't work. Little wonder then if teachers, who want to help every child in their class rather than the pathologically disruptive few, hanker for containment rather than inclusion.

All children should be allowed to attend a mainstream school unless there are overwhelming reasons otherwise. But inclusion has been driven by the most powerful educational reason of all: it's cheaper. And it's simpler to administer than a special-school system requiring a vast bureaucracy to sift increasing numbers with special needs into different categories for a small number of expensive specialist institutions with associated residential or transport costs - a system dogged in the past by poor accountability, child-protection scandals and chronic underperformance.

Rising expectations have resulted in ever more needs being identified. And rightly so. Every child is entitled to realise his or her full potential, though again help to do so is uneven when it depends on your parents'

special pleading skills rather than the early identification and remediation of learning difficulties.

The problems of rising demand have been dumped at the doors of mainstream schools. The necessary backup services have been slower to arrive - though teachers are more positive towards inclusion where these are provided. The skills and confidence teachers need must be built into initial training with additional top-up development and support with specific needs once in post. But we cannot wait for a whole new generation of teachers to make a success of inclusion.

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