Article on Inclusion
An interesting article written by a former Headmaster of a Dyslexia school Northease Manor
At the time of writing, he was also a serving member of the Council for the Registration of Schools Teaching Dyslexic Pupils (CReSTeD) and he met regularly with Heads of similar DfES approved Specialist Schools.
Inclusion : Turned on its Head
“According to the Inclusion Charter first drawn up in 1989 by the Centre for the Studies of Inclusive Education, there should be an end to “segregated special schools”, “widespread prejudice” and “discriminatory attitudes” by a wholesale move towards inclusive mainstream education. Amongst the signatories to the Charter were David Blunkett MP who we all know had a very negative experience as a child in a residential special school.
One of the recognised aims of the move towards ‘inclusive education’ was to give parents of pupils placed in special schools the opportunity to opt for provision within mainstream schools. However, where there does appear to be confusion is that the term ‘inclusion’ is used as a reason for blocking the wishes of parents who register a preference for having their children placed in a special school (including boarding school placements).
Unfortunately, the decision as to whether a parental preference for a special school would be granted is often decided at a highly expensive tribunal. As somebody who is called on a regular basis as an expert witness, I have experienced all too often the use of emotive language not dissimilar to that used in the ‘Inclusion Charter’. LEA Officers are often incredulous that a parent would want their child placed in a special school when they could be educated with the child next door at the local secondary school, but as John Wilson of the Department of Educational Studies at Oxford University states, what is the point of being included in an orchestra which is to play Beethoven if you are unable to play a musical instrument in the first place! By the same reasoning, there seems little point in being included in a group learning quadratic equations if you are unable to even add up or subtract.
It is interesting to note that many special schools are recognised as Centres of Excellence, being described by Ofsted as giving “good value for money” and operating as “a highly effective school”. Beacon School Status has been awarded and some are leaders in their field in terms of research and providing courses for teacher training. The width of provision is enormous and ranges from moderate learning difficulties, hard of hearing, epilepsy to Specific Learning Difficulties (to name but a few). Having visited Mark College (which is the only education establishment to provide maths teacher training to AMBDA status) and Mary Hare Grammar School (which enables virtually deaf children to be able to play in orchestras), one wonders how any educationalist would be moved to recommend the closures of such Centres of Excellence. Indeed, shouldn’t we be learning from their good practice and seeking to share their expertise!
When examining the range of data available from special schools to look at pupil progress, it is easy to understand why parents literally move heaven and earth in order to get a special school placement for their children. As Head of a residential special school for Specific Learning Difficulties in East Sussex, I continue to have applications from parents as far away as Wiltshire, Gloucestershire, Solihull, Lincolnshire and Suffolk despite the offer of local provision in mainstream schools with units. Such parents repeatedly describe how their children have been ostracised within a mainstream school, that they have been made to feel different by attending a unit, that they feel excluded in a mainstream school and yet in a special school they feel included as they are surrounded by pupils of similar potential but with almost identical learning difficulties. When pupils finally leave the special schools, time and time again parents report to the Headteachers that they are quite amazed by the progress achieved and that their only regret is that they had not managed to achieve a placement at the school at an earlier stage.
In a meeting with DfES representatives many years ago, it was confirmed to me and Heads of other similar schools that it remained official DfES policy that a small number of pupils would continue to be placed by Local Education Authorities in special schools (some on a residential basis). As Headteachers of special schools recognise, the vast majority of pupils will continue to have their learning needs effectively met in mainstream provision. However, my experience with some officers from Local Education Authorities is that all Specific Learning Difficulties can be met in mainstream schools. This is clearly in contradiction of DfES policy.
There is no doubt that Local Education Authorities are under tremendous pressure to stay within designated budgets of expenditure. For a small authority to have a family move into their catchment area that already have two or three siblings placed in a residential special school must be enormously difficult. It has been noted by a number of Headteachers that when funding is no longer an issue, Local Education Authorities appear to have a more positive view of possible placements in special schools. In reality, is this the nub of the problem? If we remove the problems of pressures on LEAs’ budgets, would we have a more practical and effective policy on placements in special schools?
There is currently a category of schools known as DfES approved independent special schools that have previously volunteered to be inspected by DfES and Ofsted in order to be approved as provision for Special Needs. There is a plethora of evidence to demonstrate that these schools are being disallowed to be part of this country’s provision for Special Needs. Despite the moves in the 1990s towards early identification of Special Needs, schools such as my own continue to have referrals of pupils not only as late as Year 9 but also in Year 10 and Year 11 which is when things have completely fallen apart.
Present Government policy includes the slogan that ‘Every Child Matters’. However, with the differing attitudes towards special school placements from LEA to LEA (often referred to as the ‘postcode lottery’), and a granting of special school provision only when things have gone disastrously wrong, it is clear that children are being disadvantaged when parent preference is denied. Decisions that are taken on a short term financial gain criterion are resulting in a long term cost to society by producing individuals who are not independent learners and become highly or totally dependent on society support. Special studies continue to underline that a high proportion of the prison population suffer from Specific Learning Difficulties.
What if the word ‘inclusion’ is no longer used and the phrase ‘meeting needs’ is substituted in its place? Perhaps we can then move away from the emotive language and personal baggage that has taken over the concept of inclusion and move towards a fairer and more effective provision for Special Educational Needs throughout the country.
Although this article was written many years ago, much of the information is interesting and still I believe relevant.