The things they do to children;Books

23rd April 1999 at 01:00
ENABLING EDUCATION: experiences inspecial and ordinary schools. By Priscilla Alderson and Christopher Goodey. The Tufnell Press pound;11.99.

LEARNING AND INCLUSION: The Cleves School Experience. Edited by Priscilla Alderson. David Fulton pound;13.

Lani Florian looks at the case for inclusion

Enabling Education compares "West County", a highly selective authority with a large number of special schools, to "East City" committed to closing special schools and developing more inclusive mainstream models. There are notable exceptions, but the book documents the abysmal things that can be done to children in the name of special education.

In West County, Lucy is shuffled from her first placement at the age of five in a school for deaf children with moderate learning difficulties (she is not deaf), to a school for children with moderate learning difficulties and language difficulties, to a school for pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Philip is excluded from primary school for behavioural reasons after being abandoned by his mother. George's parents have to fight hard to get him moved out of an assessment unit where he was punished for behaviour associated with his epilepsy.

The book is full of examples where pupils are mistreated academically and behaviourally by special school teachers who have little understanding of the principles of behavioural psychology or learning theory. Only high-achieving pupils with visual impairments seem to be offered meaningful opportunities and choices in a special school in West County.

Does this present a fair picture? Yes and no. The authorities studied here represent the most segregated and the most inclusive practices. The reality for many pupils is somewhere between these two extremes.

The authors are clearly in favour of inclusive mainstream schools. Some comparisons intended to reinforce the point that inclusive schools are superior to special schools are unfair. What is fair and of most value in this book are the descriptions of vulnerable children, too many of whom live unknown, under-educated and uncared for in Britain today.

Those who want to learn more about inclusive schools should consult Learning and Inclusion, written by staff and pupils at The Cleves School in Newham, east London, a school that has taken inclusion further than most. Where Enabling Education compares and contrasts, The Cleves book adds to to our understanding of how inclusion can be achieved in practice. Both books show the complexities involved in developing an education system capable of meeting the needs of all children.

Lani Florian is a senior research associate at Cambridge University

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