Parents easily misled by statistics on attainment

30th May 2003 at 01:00
David Henderson reports on the implications for mainstreaming of the findings by HMI and Audit Scotland

AS schools have been saying for years, league tables do not give a fair picture of what goes on in and out of classrooms. Now, Audit Scotland and HMI agree after studying inclusion practice in 35 schools.

As their report points out: "In schools with large numbers of pupils whose special educational needs are related to delays or difficulties in learning, the overall levels of attainment are reduced. The published attainment information for some highly inclusive and effective schools can give the impression of lower achievement against national standards when, in fact, all pupils were performing well relative to their abilities."

Parents then form negative views and send their children elsewhere.

Almost every school in the study reported that all pupils benefited from mainstreaming. Pupils learnt about differences and the most effective schools were those where staff "were open in explaining to pupils the nature of their fellow pupils' special needs".

"For example, primary pupils had learnt to play with pupils with severe forms of autism, ignoring hand-flapping and other repeated behaviours.

Pupils in a number of schools were acquiring rudimentary skills in sign languages and symbol systems to enable them to communicate. This important social learning requires a sustained approach by school staff with the support of parents and visiting staff," the report states.

But heads and staff found there were some they could not include, because they were not equipped or the effect on other children was too great. "The needs of pupils with social, emotional and behavioural difficulties and those with complex SEN presented the greatest challenge," the report concludes.

A few pupils with moderate, severe and complex difficulties were "socially isolated" in mainstream and some parents had changed their views about inclusion.

Meanwhile, many therapists said mainstream schools did not always appreciate the contribution of health professionals. Schools did not understand the role of speech and language therapists, physiotherapists and occupational therapists and heads did not make it easy for health staff to work with pupils.

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