Special days

23rd January 2004 at 00:00
Maria Corby welcomes the arrival of mainstream teachers to her school

Do you have a degree in buckles and belts? Buggies and braces? Since working in special education, I've learned how to attach reins to the wriggliest tot, to use gaiters to keep limbs stretched, and to position a child happily and comfortably in a wheelchair. I learned none of this at college; I've picked it up en route.

I did a special course to teach "mentally handicapped" children (as they were called then) which no longer exists. We learned some useful stuff: atypical development, specialist teaching methods, and information about various syndromes. I welcome the fact that all teachers are now considered to be "special" teachers, as long as they are given the training and experience at college.

We are increasingly taking in mainstream teachers to work in my school and it's brilliant to have their influence; there's something professional about them that we have lacked in special schools, and their knowledge of typical development is welcome. But we have to do a lot of training in manual handling, communication systems, medical implications and positioning, to name a few. Some people take to it. Others find the extreme differentiation and the team approach difficult.

One of the other things they don't teach you at college is how to lead a team. In a typical class of pupils with severe learning difficulties, a teacher may be working with up to six other adults. He or she has to direct that team as well as liaise with other health and education professionals who all have advice on a particular child's programme. It's easy to teach someone how to adjust a standing frame, but good communication skills are one of those essential areas seen in every teaching job advert that people either have, or do not.

In special schools, we have long worked in a "goldfish bowl" atmosphere and no longer have inhibitions about performing the silliest dramas, the daftest songs or other attention-seeking behaviour in front of colleagues and visitors. And for the most part, our new mainstream teachers are getting on with leading their teams and working successfully with their colleagues. Just as well. We haven't the time to sort out relationship difficulties. We're too busy trying to work out how to fasten the straps on Sunny's new wheelchair.

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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