There should be no automatic assumption that pupils with special needs should be excluded from language tuition" (Scottish Office Education Department circular 1178) ". . . the objective of the National Curriculum is to ensure that each pupil should obtain maximum benefit by offering ... the opportunity to reach the highest possible achievements without making impossible demands" (DES November 1991).
As theoretical ideals there can be little doubting the validity of these statements. In terms of everyday educational reality, their implementation can be a challenging, vexing and often highly frustrating, uphill struggle. For the teacher in a special school, even the most fundamental language teaching methods, such as the use of flashcards, tapes, exposure to the written word, cannot be blithely taken for granted. A gradual step-by-step, "life-based" approach is essential for establishing a new-found linguistic confidence in pupils with special needs.
But what of the language teacher in mainstream education who is also charged with the responsibility of teaching an increasing number of pupils with a variety of special educational needs and all within the confines of the 30-strong, mixed-ability class?
These are two different contexts with one essential outcome - the linguistic competence of pupils with special educational needs. In terms of existing resource materials, both situations present huge problems, and it is to this end that the Humberside Education Service team has put together this impressive 15 topic package.
Access to French very clearly highlights the extent to which a very gradual, thorough, varied and above all, achievable approach is a pre-requisite for successful teaching in the area of special needs. The package has a highly ordered format. Within each of the 15 topic-based modules (eg Cafe chez Paul, Bonjour or Les Passe-temps), teaching is divided into three tiers, each offering a gradual introduction to new language.
Each topic is sub-divided into attainment target sections with at least three tasks per attainment target. It is at this point that the thoroughness of preparation and total dedication to the goal of learning by "small achievable steps"is most admirable. It is so obviously a product of co-operation between dedicated teachers in special schools and their mainstream, language teaching counterparts.
Tasks range in complexity, for example from pointing to marks on the page which represent words to paired work in which one pupil matches a colour-coded picture to a word card and the other checks the answer from a vocabulary list. In other attainment target areas, the expertise of the special school learning support teacher is in evidence with tasks linking the development of fine motor control in tandem with language acquisition - overwriting dotted words, colouring in words and shape-matching with Jig-Cards. The mainstream influence is apparent in tasks in which pupils act as arbiters and co-ordinators of pair-work.
The language used is, by and large, very accessible, although some of the more complex instructions in French could cause unnecessary complications. So too, it might be argued that the "culture-based" language, such as "un diabolo-menthe" or "un Vittel-fraise" could cause real conceptual difficulties. Likewise the value of numbers written as words might be called to question.
Nit-picking is easy, but putting together a resource package of this sort, requires a deep understanding of the process of language acquisition. Its practical application in special schools, language and learning support departments could be enormously wide-ranging. Languages for all has now come of age.