Put special units in selected schools to aid pupils like Petal

17th November 2006 at 00:00
Penny Ward teaches at Carnoustie High

EastEnders' Albert Square has a new arrival - Petal. She is a baby with Down syndrome and, while dad is upset, he is able to accept and love his daughter. Honey, the mother, is devastated, can only see all the difficulties ahead and is clearly unable to bond with her. It's being very sensitively handled, and very honest.

I once heard having a child with special needs compared with holidays. You have booked a tropical paradise, with blue sea and warm sun, with fabulous food and glowing sunsets. Then you end up in a coastal resort in Brussels.

It's still a holiday, still seaside and, yes, the sun still sets, but oh, so much not what you had expected or looked forward to.

For many parents, the hope is that their child goes to the local school and makes friends and learns. Primary schools can often offer a good, full package, often sensitively meeting the child's need to play with much younger children by sending them to the infant classes "to help".

It is different in a secondary school, which can be a battlefield with the odds stacked against the child who has additional support needs.

Integration is a million times more than just putting a child in a classroom. Many pupils with learning difficulties do cope but, for some, it's a blur of non-comprehension. It's definitely bullying territory - every special needs kid recognises that.

We should be providing an appropriate curriculum and, for many of these children, that should be firmly centred on life skills, or the basics of number and reading. We are being cruel to the parents to let them believe that going to a normal school gives a normal experience to their child.

We don't want special schools, but larger, properly-equipped special units in selected mainstream schools. There would then be enough pupils to justify discrete groups going out to the mainstream teachers, with emphasis on modules, access courses and, most importantly, real learning.

EastEnders is to be commended for having the courage to run this storyline.

But I can't help feeling they'll tire of it well before little Petal would even make it to school.

That's real life, after all.

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