We're all riding on the back of a tiger

23rd April 2004 at 01:00
I was interested to read in The TES Scotland two weeks ago that parents in East Renfrewshire are to be sent letters by the local authority informing them that the policy of inclusion is changing the nature of classes from when they themselves were pupils. The council is telling parents that pupils with special needs are frequently accompanied by an entourage of supporting adults other than the teacher.

You may sense a touchstone of aggravation in the way I coin these words and you would be right. Picture the scene. A large class of 30 pupils - 28 so-called mainstream pupils and two pupils with variously defined special needs each of whom may be accompanied by at least one adult.

The class teacher is instructing the class in whatever the task.

Pupils are naturally expected to listen in silence, although there will be opportunities for them to seek clarification if required. While the teacher is talking to the class the supporters of the special needs pupils may well be engaged - and understandably so - with their charges. Often, they will be simplifying what the teacher is saying or they may, in fact, be attempting to keep the special needs pupil under control.

Whatever, there will be sustained dialogue between pupil and helper which will inevitably be disruptive for the rest of the class. East Renfrewshire parents - and indeed other parents, not fortunate enough to receive a letter - should be aware that inclusion, as it is currently happening in Scottish schools, is having a major impact on all pupils.

A history teacher friend told me recently of how, when teaching the Battle of Culloden to S2, she was stopped in her tracks from showing an educational video on aspects of the battlefield tactics. The classroom auxiliary - there to support a special needs pupil - argued that no one in the class should see the video because the special needs pupil found video clips upsetting. That's the problem in a nutshell and it does require the wisdom of Solomon to solve it. Whose needs are paramount here?

East Renfrewshire parents should be aware that children with a legally binding record of needs document are perceived to be more of a priority than others in the school whose needs may be almost as pressing but who have not quite qualified for a record of needs. Your child's learning support person might be pulled from underneath his feet if, for instance, the auxiliary supporting a child with a record of needs is absent.

Who champions the cause of these non-recorded but needy pupils who exist in every school in Scotland? In this arena it does help if you have articulate middle-class parents to shout the odds.

Ian Fraser, head of educational services for East Renfrewshire, made the following comment: "It is important to differentiate between a child who cannot behave appropriately because of the nature of their difficulty and not because of an informed choice that they make." Would he care to expand on this point because it doesn't really matter why you are badly behaved if the net effect is that you are disrupting the education of others.

Does inclusion operate in the world outside school?

Last summer I attended a concert in Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh. The performance of the artists was constantly interrupted by the inane interjections of a drunken fool hanging over the railings. Did the audience want to know if he had made an informed choice to behave in this way or was he deserving of our understanding because his behaviour was outwith his own control? Indeed not. We wanted him to go away so that we could enjoy the concert.

So what price inclusion in schools? We can continue to ride on the back of the tiger named inclusion but beware - one day he'll turn round and gobble us up. Sooner rather than later.

Marj Adams teaches religious studies, philosophy and psychology at Forres Academy.

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