Talking Shop

23rd October 1998 at 01:00
Former headteacher Sue Mulvany gets to the heart of issues that concern you

Q

I'm the deputy head at our school, which is committed to the inclusion of children with special educational needs in everything we do. At the end of term I held an assembly that underpinned these values. I showed the children some aids designed to help people walk. I encouraged able-bodied children, and those with impairments to try out the whole range, from walking sticks to wheelchairs.

Everyone seemed to enjoy the event and it generated a lot of discussion and questions. On returning to school during the summer I received a letter signed by a group of parents objecting to the content of the assembly on the grounds that it had frightened their youngsters. How should I respond?

A

I think your choice of topic for the assembly was wonderful and a great way of giving strong messages about the ethos of your school. It sounds a good way of developing empathy and teaching children a little of what if feels like to use such aids. I remember a speech Lord Snowden once made to a group of designers when he pointed out that potentially each able-bodied person was themselves only 30 seconds away from disability should an accident befall them. He was making a plea for universal awareness that it is often environments that disable and that we are all on a continuum of mental and physical impairment.

Your assembly seems to be giving all the right messages to your pupils. I suspect the parents' letter represents a small minority view based on lack of knowledge and a degree of fear.

The best thing you can do is speak to the group; ascertain if indeed their children were frightened or if the fears are within the parents. If the children were frightened, then you need to work with them more specifically about their prejudice. Explain the school's approach to the parents and invite them into school to see the inclusion policy in action.

I wonder if any pupils have written about their feelings and views on this? Let the parents read their responses. I'm sure you will approach the parents in the same positive and tactful way you managed the assembly.

Q

The wife of a member of staff has arranged to do her final teaching practice placement at our school. Many of the staff feel uncomfortable about this but we don't know what to do.

A

In some schools, where the style of management is more collegiate, issues such as this would be brought for discussion to the whole staff before decisions were made. The overall effectiveness of the team would be the priority.

In more traditional organisations, where such decisions are made by the head and the parties immediately concerned, I'm not sure you can do anything about it other than let the head know of your worries. There are, however, many examples of partners working in the same establishment and - as long as they don't confuse domestic and professional roles - it can work as an arrangement.

The larger the establishment of course, the easier it is to maintain the necessary distinctions. The couple in question probably feel the proposal will offer the best support for the trainee. I hope they have considered the effects on the rest of the staff and the extent to which professional positions could be compromised. It does seem odd, though, to actively pursue such a situation if a choice to do otherwise exists.

Q

I have recently moved to a school with a very high proportion of Asian pupils and a few Asian staff. I am white. I want to take a full part in the cultural life of the school and would love to wear a salwar kamiz. I'm also attracted by the elegance and comfort of the clothes. I don't know how to go about it and I don't want to appear patronising or impertinent.

A

Don't be shy, ask your colleagues what they think about your idea. You'll be able to judge whether or not it would be acceptable by the degree of enthusiasm in their responses. I'd be surprised if it was not warmly welcomed.

There are a number of schools in which white adults wear salwar kamizes, especially for Eid celebrations. Indeed in one school I know, the staff shopped for fabrics and grandparents sewed the garments.

The children will love to see their Anglo-Asian culture affirmed in such a way.

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