Who will welcome back the difficult ones?;Research Focus

8th January 1999 at 00:00
The practice of educating children with special educational needs in mainstream schools has the Government's support. Teachers, local authority officers, children and parents also broadly endorse this policy for most pupils with special needs, write Peter Farrell and Konstantina Tsakalidou.

However, concerns have been raised about the inclusion of pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties, particularly by teacher unions. Indeed there is evidence that the numbers of such pupils being referred for special provision has recently increased, a trend closely linked to the rising numbers of pupil exclusions.

The prospects for the inclusion of pupils with EBD, therefore, do not seem bright. Nevertheless, a main aim of many EBD schools and units is to return pupils to mainstream schools. So how successful are they in this respect?

Some 370 schools and units for pupils with EBD were sent a questionnaire seeking information about the number of pupils reintegrated successfully into mainstream schools between 199192 and 199596 and about headteachers' perceptions of the barriers to reintegration. Reintegration was deemed successful when pupils had remained in a mainstream school for at least a year. We received replies from 54 per cent of the schoolsunits surveyed - a reasonable response rate.

Our survey indicated that the mean number reintegrated per year is extremely small, fewer than two pupils per schoolunit, less than 5 per cent.

However, there has been a very small upward trend, and, given that these figures were obtained in 1997, before the publication of the Green Paper on special needs, it is possible that this improvement has continued. The patterns were similar in England and Wales and Scotland. Maintained schools and off-site units have slightly higher reintegration rates than independent schools; and day schools are more successful at reintegration than are residential and dayresidential schools. This may be because residential and independent schools tend to take pupils who are more emotionally disturbed.

Other findings indicated that well over half the pupils successfully reintegrated are aged 11 to 13. Only a fifth are over 13.

Children have more chance of being reintegrated in their first two years at a special school or unit (60 per cent of all reintegrated pupils). Less than a third of those reintegrated have been in special EBD schools or units for three to five years and only 2 per cent have attended for more than five years. Almost all those reintegrated go to a new mainstream school.

Heads of EBD schools and units believe their pupils' poor attainment and emotional instability make it difficult to reintegrate them. They also feel there are insufficient resources for reintegration.

If EBD schools and units wish to reintegrate pupils, it seems they should take younger children, and individual education plans should aim towards reintegration from the start of the placement. If they fail to return their pupils to a mainstream school within two years, it will be extremely difficult for them to do so.

Dr Peter Farrell is a senior lecturer in education and Ms Konstantina Tsakalidou is a research assistant. They are based at the Department of Education, University of Manchester. A fuller version of this article will appear in a future issue of School Psychology International

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