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Those unforgettable days in education

Susan Taylor, Year 4 teacher at Foxdenton Special School, Oldham.

The school is for 110 children aged two to 11 who have special needs arising from physical or medical difficulties.

"I arrived at Foxdenton School having worked in an academic, Catholic, middle-class school. I had always wanted to go into special educational needs and I thought I was quite prepared. I had worked with adults with cerebral palsy before going to university and I had visited Foxdenton several times and talked to the staff about the needs of the children.

It was a tremendous culture shock. I walked into a class with nine children, three of whom had virtually no means of communication. Others had varying degrees of communication. I had encountered children with hearing impairments and language difficulties, but not children with no communication. I couldn't see how I was going to cope and felt intimidated by it all.

It was a steep learning curve, but gradually I began to cpe, mainly with the help of the nursery nurse who told me an awful lot about the needs of the children and how to modify the curriculum. I also talked to other members of staff. But it was really a matter of trial and error.

Before I came, one teacher had told me 'Don't plan very much until you know the children', and to a great extent she was right. When I was working in mainstream schools I thought I was considering the whole child, but in special needs you really do have to. You have to think about their physical needs, their therapeutic needs, everything. If they're not comfortable, they can't learn: if you don't work with the therapists they make no progress. So you learn to work as one of a multidisciplinary team.

During the first year I made loads of mistakes but I can see how much I've developed. I now feel I've really learnt to teach. I feel that there are more rewards in seeing children make progress in this context than in mainstream."

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