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Jean Walker

Special Schools

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Can people from various countries answer a few questions on this topic, please:

1. In the UK are there more special schools in some LEAs than others? Which have more, which less (fewer!)?

2. Here we do not put those whose "only" problem is challenging behaviour in special schools at all. Do other countries, apart from UK?

3. What % of students do you have in special schools? OECD says 1.5 is about average in Europe. We have .05.

4. Is having separate settings within a mainstream campus becoming more common? Is it the way to go?

5. I believe in inclusion where it works for everyone concerned but not total and full inclusion as we are being moved towards here, so that even students who need tube feeding, cathetering, manual lifting etc are placed full-time in mainstream schools, often without full Aide time. Any opinions?

6. Blasphemy, I know, but is it possible that in another decade, we may discover we were misguided to try to mainstream ALL special needs students?

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Guest Chris Sweeney

Hi Jean (sorry, couldn't resist that rather old joke!! :D)

I cannot discuss your questions as an 'expert'; just as a mainstream teacher who has a brother and sister who were educated in Special Schools (as Down's) until they were 18, at which they started an FE college with excellent facilities. There were NO facilities from their 5-11 age that were anything like as good as the special school, and by the time they ought to have attended an 11+ school, my mother was the one institutionalised on their behalf! So they did not enter - to my regret - mainstream ed until they were 18. Too late for my shy sister, but great for my more ebullient brother!

Money dictates what we do here - and where you are too I imagine. Your country's circumstances are different, so perhaps it is cheaper to integrate there? Please explain. Your questions come from some belief you have and I am interested what prompted them.

Anyway, imo, here it is cheaper to staff one or two special schools per Ed Authority and bus the children in rather than pay individual specialist staff here and there to go to our many mainstream schools. Hence it is more common to find more secondary schools than primary offering integration to some special needs children, as by definition primary schools are smaller and there are more of them, thus they would require more people to deal with individuals.

I am sure you know all this.

I also live with the consequences of this economic decision as my sister will now never be integrated into mainstream society and will always be highly dependent; as opposed to my (potentially) moderately independent brother who is currently doing his best to learn belated social skills. My brother is managing,in a limited way, to adapt, my poor sister needed to be socialised from an earlier age than eighteen to have helped her.

But that does not mean that I believe that ALL special needs students should be integrated. Far from it. I have direct experience of my siblings' peers at their special school and it is clear that some people will be forever unable to interact socially with others. In that case it is cruelty to subject them to enforced socialising (as they will experience in mainstream). People with such severe problems will either not be able to recognise social interaction, or will be some sort of personal hell because of it. The only reason I can see anyone might have for forcing integration on these young people is a- to save money, or b- to provide tolerance skills for so-called normal students. Neither imo justifies forcing severely disabled young people into situations which we would not enjoy were we in their place.

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Thank you for a very interesting reply. You're right in thinking I have a motive for my questions. I am currently President of our state teachers' union. Tasmania is a very small state, about 400,000 people spread over similar area to Ireland. We have just had thrust upon us a completely new restructuring of our ed dept and part of this recommends a "change in roles" for special schools. Currently we have only 3 in the state with a total of about 200 students in them out of 69,000 . The rest are in mainstream, including students with very high needs and very low awareness of their surroundings.

Believe me, I have nothing against inclusion when it works for everyone and I have seen it work wonderfully. However, many parents of severely disabled students are very worried that all sp schools will close, and they have even had a rally outside one of them recently to protest.

We are being told by a firm of ed consultants that we are not inclusive enough and that this is not about money but about creating an equitable society. However, I concur with your opinions about forcing socialization on to both sides when it will do more harm than good. They are the sort of opinions I am hearing here, but our dept does not want to hear them. We rarely bus students here as distances are quite large compared with England, so there is often not a sp school within reasonable distance for them to attend. A lot of our country towns are relatively isolated and so there are no facilities unless parents move to a city.

I have a colleague at work who has a severely disabled young son and she has come to realise that he is much better off in part-time enrolment of a mixture of sp and mainstream schools for the very reasons you give, but she has to fight tooth and nail to get it and has been discouraged from it by dept staff.

It seems almost impossible to prove that it IS about money when the arguments for full inclusion appear so persuasive and the arguments against can be made to sound discriminatory and cruel.

It always seems strange to me that we have this idea that absolutely every disabled child can be mainstreamed for their own and society's benefit, but we don't hold to the same argument when very elderly people become severely mentally or physically disabled - we believe they need special care and to be protecetd from themselves. It seems to me to be a denial of the frailty of the human condition, as if somehow we can force everyone to be the same and have the same needs.

I'll be interested to hear any other thoughts you may have.

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Jean

I expect the rate at which special schools are being closed down differs from one LEA to another but we also seem to be following the trend towards the inclusion of children with highly complex needs in mainstream schools. I know there is considerable opposition to this but it will be a difficult trend to reverse . I like the idea of a group of schools in one locality which between them offers a range of special needs specialisms. Is this the kind of compromise you had in mind?

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Anne

Yes, that is the model suggested by the consultants - they talk of a "critical mass" of students within a "cluster" of schools which will then provide a specialist service for those students but keep them in their own particualr school. It sounds great in theory but with our small, scattered population, I don't know of it is really possible. It might work for autistic children of whom there are increasing numbers everywhere, but I don't see it working for things like spina bifida where there may only be one or two students within a very large area, without forcing parents to move them to a particular school, which seems to negate the basic idea of freedom of choice.

I just have this feeling that in another decade or two people will look back and think how silly we were to believe that total inclusion was the answer to it all. I hope i'm wrong!

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According to a BBC News item today at:

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/4323955.stm

the British Conservative Party has just pledged to reverse special school closures. Tory leader Michael Howard is quoted as telling reporters in London that "the rigid approach' of educating all pupils in mainstream schools ignores the fact that all children are unique". He also proposes to commission an independent body, the Research Institute for Special Educational Needs, to develop a framework for assessing SEN which is designed to bring consistency to the assessment of needs across the country." The report mentions that 1,148 special schools are still open and that special school closures began under the last Conservative administration.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

Edited by David Wilson

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Thanks, David. That's interesting - would they really be able to do it if they got into power or is it just one of those pre-election promises that disappear into the ether?

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Thanks, David. That's interesting - would they really be able to do it if they got into power or is it just one of those pre-election promises that disappear into the ether?

I suspect the latter, Jean. Educational decisions are still largely made within local communities in this country, although central government tries to take a lead by setting the climate and keeping the big picture in view. When it comes to mainstream versus special education, there's a populist tendency to see the position as an "either-or". In reality, places like the London borough of Newham, which claims to be the most inclusive authority in the UK, have replaced special schools with specialist units attached to mainstream schools. People forget that real inclusion isn't about unsupported mainstreaming or integration, where the child is left to sink or swim. There's room for a whole spectrum of strategies and arrangements, and the important thing is that individual needs, particularly those of vulnerable children, are fully met. I believe my own local authority has the balance right in that it has retained most of its special schools while ensuring that all children with SEN in mainstream education receive appropriate support.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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Would you like to come out here as a visiting consultant and persuade our govt they need to do the same??? My partner from South Shields would make you very welcome!!

I believe we are not supporting our SEN kids at all well despite the govts protestations to the contrary. We have just restructured our entire system and finance distribution and it looks to me as if even fewer SEN kids will get into a spevial school and/or get enough TA support. It will take a disaster or parental revolution to get something done.

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Would you like to come out here as a visiting consultant and persuade our govt they need to do the same???  My partner from South Shields would make you very welcome!!

My naturalised American brother tells me wonderful tales about his two visits to Australia (Queensland and New South Wales) and he ponders wistfully how things might have been had we taken the £10 passage "down under" during the 1950s. I'm simply reporting how I see things in my neck of the woods - the local councillors and adminstrators are the ones who decided that SEN should be a priority, and fortunately central government sees it that way too.

I believe we are not supporting our SEN kids at all well despite the govts protestations to the contrary. We have just restructured our entire system and finance distribution and it looks to me as if even fewer SEN kids will get into a spevial school and/or get enough TA support.  It will take a disaster or parental revolution to get something done.

Yes, it's vital to have a supportive parent population campaigning for the retention of special schools for the minority who require them. Inclusion is a worthy aim, particularly when the concept extends beyond education to society at large. It mustn't be done just for the sake of saving money. It must be done with support and expertise built in for those who will benefit. No vulnerable child should be left to suffer as the result of well-intentioned but dogmatic policy-making.

David Wilson

http://www.specialeducationalneeds.com/

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