Keep Them Special

The logical outcome of complete social and educational inclusion is
the death of publicly-funded facilities for those with special
needs, something already apparently in the government’s sights.
Tony Blair recently stated that people on incapacity benefit should
be working -in other words, not draining the public purse -but
neglected to say how or where they might find jobs to pay a living

In reality, opportunity always depends on capability, and forcing
people to compete on grossly unequal terms is bound to end in
grief. We may be born equal, but our differences dictate whether
the challenges we face enable us to flourish or fail.

The forced integration of children with special needs into
mainstream education is a contentious issue. Education is integral
to the long process of child socialisation that begins at birth and
ideally, with the co-operative input of family, society and school,
begets well rounded, law-abiding and productive adults. By
definition, children are undeveloped beings who cannot function or
thrive unaided, so what happens when they are put with those whose
needs appear to attract preferential treatment? Resentment; the
growth of exclusive groups; bullying -all innate responses to a
perceived threat because the average child is unlikely to
appreciate the reasoning behind remote policy.

Teachers already feel overwhelmed by the state, their employers and
their pupils. Where will they find the extra time that special
needs children demand? Will they have no choice but to ignore them?
Commentators blame the worrying levels of illiteracy, innumeracy
and low achievement among school leavers on the way the
comprehensive system must cater to the lowest common denominator
and acknowledge the needs of the least able student, even at
others’ expense. Consequently, pupil disaffection is running rife,
like truanting and juvenile crime, much of which is committed when
children should be safely occupied in class.

Disabilities may be temporary -caused by illness, accident, family
difficulties, bereavement and so forth -or inherent and permanent,
such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism and a host of neurological,
psychological and physical disorders, including brain damage.
Children in the latter group already shoulder a huge burden. Is it
fair to expect them to cope with and benefit from mainstream
education? Before dyslexia was identified and understood, such
children were often condemned as lazy and stupid; even so, they
will not achieve literacy without specialist input.

Segregation and competition are being eradicated from the
educational landscape but, in the past, children segregated
according to ability and potential were usually more settled and
achieved more. When grammar schools were swept away on grounds of
elitism, the secondary moderns also disappeared, despite their
proven worth for children of a less academic bent who often
outperformed both expectations and their grammar school peers,
especially in the world of work.

As children, like adults, tend to aspire to the norms of their
particular group, should gifted children be educated separately?
The most brilliant young dancer or musician will wither without the
intense and specialist teaching that is all but impossible to find
in the public sector. Removing competitive sport from the school
curriculum has done worse than deny athletic and sporting
opportunities: it has bred millions of obese, sickly, square-eyed
antisocial children who spend most of their leisure time in
solitary inactivity, watching television or playing computer

Children who failed the old 11-plus could have another chance, and
some entered grammar school at 13 or 14 -a good example of
short-term exclusion leading, through reassessment, to later
integration. Many children with special needs could similarly
benefit from the right leg-up, but it is foolish to ignore the
wider considerations relevant to their disabilities. In October,
18-year-old Paul Smith was found guilty of murdering 10-year-old
Rosie May Storrie. It emerged in court that he had previously
attacked other young girls. Smith has Asperger’s syndrome and was
said to have been bullied at school for his stilted language, lack
of social skills and learning difficulties. Asperger’s does not
predispose towards violence; how much, then, did Smith’s inclusive
education contribute to the person he became?

Alison Taylor is a novelist and former senior child care

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