One child at a time is way to mainstream

13th June 2003 at 01:00
MAINSTREAMING of special needs pupils is not about "putting bums on seats", and one mother says the Scottish Executive needs to do more to convince parents.

Jaqui Reid, who has three children at Kirkhill primary in East Renfrewshire, one of whom is autistic, told a workshop at an inclusion conference in Giffnock last week that mainstreaming can only be done one child at a time.

"This is not the message the Executive is sending out," Mrs Reid said. "You can't figure out how to include 30 kids from a special school, but that is what people think the Executive is trying to do."

Mrs Reid, who chairs Equity, the inclusion charity, and acts as an advocate for parents, said: "Best practice involves introducing the children one at a time, figuring out what they need individually and then the school working as part of a team to develop this."

She also called for a greater emphasis on providing advocacy services for parents. "Under the Additional Support for Learning Bill, all local authorities will have a statutory duty to provide a mediation service for parents. Most parents, however, are not able or willing or empowered to feel like going up against the authority for the rights of their child.

"Advocacy is part of how you provide the support to empower them, but there are no plans for advocacy in the Bill - only mediation. Advocacy, either formal or informal, needs to be built into the system."

In her keynote address to the conference, organised by East Renfrewshire Council and the Scottish Schools Ethos Network, Patricia Potts, senior research fellow at Canterbury Christ Church University College, said that inclusion is not "a topic". It is about "shared values, political, personal and moral issues and how we want to live our lives".

But Ms Potts was critical of what she thought were inclusion and exclusion policies being practised in schools at the same time - exclusion in terms of efficiency, and inclusion in terms of human rights. "An example of this is when you might have an inclusion project in a school that sets the pupils by ability. It seems to me that schools need to examine this contradiction."

Terminology is also crucial, Ms Potts said. "Special educational needs implies a category of a separated group of students who then become identified as different. This reduces their participation in the social process.

"Another example is the language of excellence. Often you get the phrase excellence for all, which seems to me to be a contradiction. Excellence is a vertical kind of language about winners and losers and is in the context of competition, whereas inclusion is about collaboration and co-operation."

Ian Fraser, head of educational services in East Renfrewshire, contested the claim that the quest for attainment had removed the fun from teaching. "The inclusion agenda has generated a lot of excitement in schools and enhanced the fun aspect of teaching. It is possible to push in both areas at once - inclusion and attainment."

Rona Kennedy, headteacher of Kirkhill primary, which has a significant number of special needs pupils on its roll, supported Mr Fraser's claim.

"The climate of the staffroom is now one of celebrating success, however small," she said.

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