Inclusion - Do It Properly
Richard Reiser, Vice-chair of the National SEN Advisory Committee, director of Disability, Equality and Education and a leading campaigner on disability rights, spoke powerfully at the local association meeting on 24th November.
Richard, a strong proponent for the inclusion of all students into mainstream, argued that the idea that people can be separated out according to disability is fundamentally flawed and based on the late 19th Century ideas of eugenics. The inclusion agenda seeks to include those students who have historically been separated out, with the subsequent exclusion of disabled adults from society, leading to high unemployment levels amongst the disabled.
He criticised New Labour's utilitarian rather than socialist agenda, demonstrated by their desire to siphon off those people who will be useful to society! He argued, convincingly,that most parents' primary concern is not about high levels of academic achievement; they are more concerned about ensuring that their children are happy and secure in school. Nonetheless, in areas where large numbers of SEN students are included in mainstream school, the GCSE points score for SEN students is higher than for SEN students in special schools.
He pointed out that every LEA should have an access plan, as should every school, but where such a plan occurs it is often limited to ensuring disabled access rather than developing the curriculum for all students.
Finally Richard argued that, despite the government's attempts to push specialist colleges and academies, the comprehensive system is so well embedded in this country that schools will actually remain fundamentally comprehensive and so we should fight to include all children so that all children can be citizens.
The meeting was well attended, with several teachers from special schools as well as parents from the Save our Special Schools campaign. The discussion that followed Richard's talk highlighted the problems that SEN pupils face in mainstream. A special school teacher pointed out that students, who had struggled in mainstream, had 'blossomed' when they had moved to their special school. Parents of children in special schools expressed concern about attitudes towards teaching students with disabilities in mainstream schools.
However, the majority at the meeting seemed to agree that the ideal situation was one where all students could be included into mainstream schools with special schools as support bases. This requires adequate funding and proper training, and of course this is where the problem with our LEA is likely to lie. The meeting then discussed the LEA's proposals for special education in the city.