Special Needs Pupils in Mainstream Schools

13 Apr

The damage youngsters suffer in the name of inclusion

Two Cambridge University professors, John McBeath and Maurice Galton, visited 20 mainstream state schools that teach more than 2,000 pupils to observe and assess how well children with statements of Special Educational Needs [now re-named Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs)] were doing.  Their findings were damning. 

Calling them “the forgotten children”, they discovered that those who were the victims of dyslexia and autism were struggling.   Many were being bullied and teased by fellow-pupils.  Some teachers dismissed them as lazy and “lacking a work ethic” as they did badly in tests and struggled during the lessons.

The academics met a boy with cerebral palsy whom teachers had given up on and a 12-year-old called Peter who had Asperger’s syndrome, who kept going back to his primary school begging to be re-enrolled.   At the secondary school he had been separated from his friends and was always in detention or in an isolation unit.  He was exceedingly unhappy, according to McBeath.

At another, they encountered an autistic girl, Samantha.  She spent every lunch hour standing in a corner of the library facing the wall to avoid the attention of others.  She, apparently, had not been heard speaking at the school for over a year. Her headteacher admitted to the Cambridge dons that the staff lacked expertise to meet her needs.

According to the academics, the experiment of teaching such children in mainstream rather than in special schools, which was done for the noblest of reasons – i.e. to create an inclusive culture in all our schools with a view to promoting equality – had had unintended consequences.  The professors averred that this (inclusive) policy, which was failing the pupils it was meant to help, was being used by local authorities to save money.

Ten years ago, the same professors had carried out a study into teaching SEN pupils.   They now found that things had become much worse.   “We have met too many children who are desperately unhappy and whose needs are not being met,” they said.  “For some….it is hellish. They are bullied and teased….In big secondary schools these children just get lost.” In a number it was “routine” for some pupils to be kept out of sight when inspectors visited.

Many academies and Free Schools were refusing to admit SEN pupils as they feared that their academic performance would be a blot on the institutions’ standings in the league tables. Other schools limited admission to two SEN pupils per class [a not-unreasonable figure if the SEN pupils were statemented or had Education, Care and Health Plans (ECHPs)].   Many had “velcroed” themselves to teaching assistants, several of whom were unqualified to teach these children.

Some parents, who were interviewed by the researchers, said that “they were not listened to” and their wishes were ignored.   One mother was told that the dyslexia of her child was just a “fancy label”.  A second was forced to remove her son, who had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), out of mainstream school because the headteacher and staff confessed that they were failing him. The mother of a third was told that her child suffered from ‘lazyitis’.

Meanwhile, Samantha Cameron, wife of the prime minister, criticised education chiefs (according to The Mail on Sunday) for insisting that her son, Ivan, who passed away in 2009, be educated in a mainstream school.  His death caused her and her husband much grief so that she still sees a counsellor. Ivan required 24-hour care. “We had to fight with educational psychologists who said he had to be in a mainstream pre-school nursery.  It was political correctness gone mad. It simply wasn’t the right thing and was really upsetting as a parent,” she said.

“Ivan had a feeding tube and very bad epilepsy.  He couldn’t sit up.  He couldn’t communicate at all.  He needed to be somewhere more sensory and stimulating with people he knew how to look after him.”

Her remarks chimed in with the findings of McBeath and Galton, who are using their report to demand that the government set up an enquiry after the elections into the teaching of children with SEN.   Their campaign is for more children with profound needs to be educated in special schools where they will receive appropriate provision.

Thirty years ago, we had 1,571 special schools in the country.  This has now fallen to 1,148, even though the children diagnosed with learning difficulties continue to rise.  The good reason for the demise of so many special schools is to promote inclusiveness.  The real reason appears to be to save money.  But are we saving money or, rather, engaging in a false economy which will cause the nation to spend much more on these children when they become adults?

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