Special days

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
Maria Corby is delighted to find she is superfluous

It was the first school council meeting and I was sitting next to the chair, a usually confident 18-year-old who has severe learning difficulties and plenty of teenage attitude. Leo took his job seriously and arrived wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase, but I could see he was nervous. In fact, none of us knew how it would go.

We are keen on independence skills, and I guess our ultimate aim is for the pupils to manage without us. The committee had been elected, and agendas, with pictorial symbols and photographs, distributed. Everyone was looking expectantly towards Leo, who was looking worriedly at me. "Welcome everyone," I whispered to him. "'ullo everybody," he said. "Thank them for coming," I added. "Thank very much for all come to school council." Good start.

Next on the agenda was visitors. We had important visitors coming to school and the headteacher wanted two members of the school council to help. "Who want help show visitors round?" asked Leo, with prompting. Two senior pupils shyly volunteered.

We were on to any other business. A teaching assistant wondered if the seniors could set an example by not running in the corridors. This was agreed. None of the students had anything to say. "Thank all for coming," concluded Leo, again with my prompting.

The breakthrough came at our most recent meeting, when 13-year-old Neil nervously said: "I thinkI er, I like, er, I like bikes at playtime. More bikes." He went on: "Bikes want mended." The adults looked at each other, delighted. I leaned over to brief Leo. I thought we shouldn't just agree to this but get the students to think for themselves about it. But Leo was ahead of me. "Well," he said, "bikes cost money. Where we get money from, eh?" This started a discussion that led to a bike appeal being set up.

"Other business?" asked Leo importantly. "No?" He swung his briefcase on the table, opened the clips in a casual manner and slung his papers in.

"Good meeting," he said jauntily, and pointed at poor Neil. "Next meeting, you tell us how much money you got." Then he swaggered off.

I was speechless. Yes, I know we want the pupils to be independent, but it made me feel, well, so unnecessary.

Maria Corby is deputy head of a special school for pupils with severe and multiple learning difficulties. She writes under a pseudonym

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