Rights and responsibilities

24th January 2003 at 00:00
Nick Clough and Jane Tarr review a resource for citizenship and special needs

CITIZENSHIP EDUCATION FOR YOUNG PEOPLE WITH SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS. Webpages on CD available free from the Institute of Citizenship. Tel: 020 7241 7414. Email: education@citizen.org.uk. www.citizen.org.ukeducationsenresources.html

This timely publication, at the beginning of the European Year of Disabled People, brings together a range of teaching and learning materials for students with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties.

Developed by 11 teachers in special schools, it raises an important question: what is the essence of citizenship education and its application for this diverse range of students?

A wide range of multisensory activities related to citizenship themes, such as diversity and identity; conflict resolution; economy and environment is presented using stories, song, and photographs, with stimulating suggestions for working with the digital camera. The use of the Widget symbol system is well developed with printable cards, sentences and even a symbol questionnaire as an introduction to starting a school council. These resources can be printed out, and used in many different ways. They can also be expanded with reference to the list of websites and organisations which are able to offer support.

The positive effect of involving teachers in creating these materials has already been recognised in an evaluation report. What is needed, however, is a clearer statement about the entitlement to citizenship education for this group of vulnerable students, particularly with reference to current legislation and the Code of Practice 2001.

Inevitably, there will be some debates which are not covered in materials such as these, but their omission now calls for discussion and action by the very teachers who will be using them. For example, should they overtly play to pupils' different strengths in terms of communication or reasoning or sensory ability or the capacity to develop relative independence? Given the tendency of many special schools to feel secluded from their localities, how can the curriculum strand relating to community involvement be emphasised to the advantage and greater inclusion of the students?

There is an additional serious political question to address. How can the processes of self advocacy and the associated rights of children established through the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act, 2001 and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989 be more fully realised in schools as a result of this curricular intervention? This resource offers insufficient discussion of the implications of the democratic process for teaching and learning within special education; indeed little reference is made to values as essential elements of learning.

A good start has been made, but a rationale now needs to be developed which acknowledges such concepts as inclusion, developing independence and the significance of the child's perspective as pre-requisites to developing active citizenship for all.

Nick Clough and Jane Tarr are lecturers at the Faculty of Education, UWE Bristol and members of the Centre for Research in Education and Democracy

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