U-Turn needed on special schools

The headline in the Daily Telegraph revealed more than it intended.
“Baroness admits to ‘disastrous legacy’ of problem children in
mainstream teaching” it read.

It referred to Baroness Warnock’s reversal of her original view
that children with special needs (not “problem” children) should be
educated in mainstream schools. She said that the policy,
implemented 30 years ago, had left a “disastrous legacy”. She is
now urging government to carry out a radical review of the closure
of special schools.

Since 1997, 91 special schools have closed in spite of more
children being diagnosed as having special needs. The Special
Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, “expects that the
special educational needs of children will normally be met in
mainstream schools”.

“Normally”, in this context, is an Alice in Wonderland use of the
word. Since what it too often means is incorporating special needs
children with no extra staff, resources or adequately adapted
buildings. Or to put it another way, it’s the education of special
needs children at rock bottom prices. So, mainstream staff are
overworked and too often, the children become marginalised. How to
move forward?

Obviously, a special needs child is entitled to an education which
maximises his or her potential while leading a full and happy life.
Lady Warnock says that schools that do care for children with the
most severe and complex difficulties, “are regarded as little more
than places of containment”. That is precisely why there was such a
strong urge to have children placed in mainstream schools all those
years ago.

What’s baffling is why we continue to have an education system
which is so lacking in choice and flexibility. As a result, even
those children who are placed in special needs schools are often
mismatched with their peers, resulting in unhappiness and

We do need more specialised schools for some children (at a price
which will not please politicians) but we also require many more
mainstream schools than at present to open their doors to pupils
who are academically capable but who may have, for instance, a
physical disability which requires an imaginative response. Jayne
Jardine, head teacher of Springhallow, a school for children with
autism, displays admirable common sense when she says: “I am not
against inclusion when it works but it clearly doesn’t work for

The tragedy is that for decades those for whom it does not work
have been without a high-profile champion. Let’s hope Lady
Warnock’s apostasy hasn’t come too late.

Yvonne Roberts

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