Until I began teaching, I didn’t really have an understanding of the education provided for children with special needs that had been going on through my childhood and early adult hood. I remember being quite horrified when being told the history of special needs provision in England during my one afternoon of SEN teaching lectures given as part of my teacher training at university.
I couldn’t really remember anyone with special needs at school – some children learned at a slower pace than others, some didn’t seem to get maths or writing very well but we were all part of a class with one teacher to provide for our different learning needs. My only experiences of children who might have disabilities came in books that I read so the first real child I met who was “disabled” was in my last year of primary when I changed schools and they had been badly hurt in a car accident which had affected their physical mobility as well as their intellectual ability. They did not seem to me to be a particularly nice person – saying rude and hurtful things to me as the “new”girl – and I have to admit I did not like her. But then when I learned about the system of special schools, where many children had been sent whatever their perceived “disability” was, I realised that in effect my schooling had taken place in a very segregated environment.
My research into special needs has necessitated me finding out much more about the views in the past of how special needs education should or could be delivered. It does not make for pleasant reading but then again I do not feel the present education system which is trying to close special schools (that have improved so much over the past twenty years) and send children into mainstream without the support they need is a fair or just one either.
My fears are not so much for the primary aged children but for those going into the mainstream secondary schools (ages 11-18). I know that it is the general mixing with other pupils at break and lunch times that is the most worrying for children there – bullying occurs – isolation and low self-esteem take over for many of the most vulnerable. In lesson time, they are often placed in smaller classes but with children that have major behavioural issues so they feel unsafe and the quality of the teaching is compromised by the routine disruption.
We have made great strides towards a more inclusive and supportive education for those children who need extra help by learning from the mistakes made in yesteryear but we must make sure that we do not allow these children to be left to flounder in the future due to lack of finances for special schools when that is the correct environment for that child.
Please let me know what your views are on whether special schools and mainstream should both exist in our education system? Do you have any personal experience as parents, educators or students as to what would be your perfect learning environment and how transfer to secondary schools could be made better?
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