7th April 2000 at 01:00
* A study of disabled children in their early teens has revealed a picture of bullying and deep dissatisfaction with their educational experience. The University of Edinburgh research found verbal taunts and sometimes violence were the main reasons why disabled children moved from mainstream to special schools. However, bullying was also observed in segregated environments and disabled children were sometimes themselves bullies. Some also hit back when harassed by non-disabled peers.

Some interventions thought to help disabled children were often found to make it harder for them to get along with their classmates. For example, special needs assistants mean children cannot sit next to friends.

The study concluded that disabled children's school day was dominated by interaction with adults rather than peers, leaving "few opportunities for autonomy and age-appropriate behaviour". Further, disabled children were often encouraged to befriend each other, further isolating them from others.

Many teachers labelled the children as different and made subjective judgments about their abilities. This "institutionalisation of difference" seemed to unconsciously justify separating disabled children from others in many schools. These attitudes and other difficulties, such as having to attend a special school some distance away from their home, were the root of many problems reported by disabled children, rather than the disability itself. Although many of the 300 interviewees, who had a wide variety of impairments, had been isolated bytheir non-disabled peers, some had many friends. But this was sometimes a result of having minimised their perceived impairment.

The researchers commented that disabled children should receive encouragement to put forward their own solutions to problems.

Chris Johnston Life as a Disabled Child: A Qualitative Study of Young People's Experiences and Perspectives is part of the Economic and Social Research Council's Children 5-16 research programme

* "Inclusive Education at Work: Students with Disabilities in Mainstream Schools" reports on provision for children with disabilities in eight countries within the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development: Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, Italy, US and UK. The differing views of how many children have special needs at any time is bemusing. While up to 20 per cent is generally agreed on in the UK, Australia and Canada, the US identifies only 12 per cent and the Italians just 2 per cent.

The general trend over the past 20 years has been towards more inclusive provision. But in Denmark, the number of segregated classes for disabled children in mainstream schools has risen in the past decade. Those who believe Britain is in the vanguard of inclusionist policies should look at the league tables for the percentage of children assessed and placed in special schools, which puts the UK at the top.

Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, OECD 1999, pound;33. ISBN 92-64-17121-5

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