Pupils in wrong place

14th October 2005 at 01:00
Many special-needs children are being disadvantaged by mainstream education, says survey. Adi Bloom reports

As many as 25,000 children are being taught in mainstream education when they should be in special schools, suggests a TES survey. The findings raise doubts about whether thousands of children with special needs, ranging from behaviour disorders to physical disabilities, are being adequately provided for.

The survey also reveals that thousands of teacher days are lost annually as a result of stress or injury caused by teaching special-needs children.

Two-thirds of teachers have received less than one day's training on how to teach them.

Almost two in three secondary heads and one in three primary heads in Wales and England say they have pupils who should be in a special school, according to the survey. Three in 10 primary and more than half of secondary classroom teachers agree, saying they teach pupils who would be better off in special school.

The TES poll shows huge support for the campaign in England to halt the closure of special schools, led by Westminster's shadow education secretary and Conservative leadership contender David Cameron. Four out of five teachers and heads favour an end to further closures.

In Wales, the number of special schools fell sharply between 199091 and 19992000, from 61 to 47, but has remained unchanged at 43 for the past three years.

The survey of 511 classroom teachers and 206 heads (52 in all from Wales), carried out by FDS International, suggests that as many as 15,000 primary and 10,000 secondary pupils who should be in special schools are being taught in mainstream classrooms. But, despite their reservations, most teachers support the inclusion of children with special needs or disabilities in mainstream education where possible.

About a third of heads and classroom teachers think children with special needs are most likely to achieve their learning potential in a mainstream school. And almost half the heads, and more than a third of classroom teachers, believe other children benefit educationally from the presence of a child with special needs.

The Labour government has championed integration of special-needs pupils into mainstream schools. This was consolidated by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, which strengthened the right of these children to be educated at a mainstream school.

The Assembly government has just finished consulting on new draft inclusion guidance, which says most children will attend their local mainstream school but that special schools "continue to play an important and continuing role for those requiring very specialist and specific support".

The Assembly's education committee is reviewing provision in Wales. It has recommended placing more emphasis on special needs in initial teacher-training courses, and urged the General Teaching Council for Wales to use its continuing professional development bursaries to encourage more teachers on to courses.

Chairman Peter Black said: "The Welsh approach has been to work with individual pupils to provide appropriate provision."

The pioneer of inclusion, Baroness Warnock, at a meeting last month of the Assembly's education committee, praised Wales for not pursuing special-school closures. She caused a storm recently when she changed her mind about inclusion and called for a reversal of the trend.

Mick Brookes, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers, said: "There's a conflict between ideology and resourcing. It's costly to teach these pupils in mainstream schools."

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