‘I would include everyone in their neighbourhood school’

Louise Adkins found out that her third son Ben had Down’s syndrome
before he was born. But when she learned that many children with
the condition go to mainstream school she felt more positive about
the diagnosis.

“It didn’t seem like such a scary prospect if the child was not
going to go off to a strange world of special schools and be
separate from the rest of society,” she says. However, as convinced
as she was that mainstream education was best for Ben, the local
village school did not agree.

“The head was of the opinion that Ben couldn’t be educated in
mainstream school and would disrupt the other children’s education.
It was suggested that he went to a special needs school and could
come over for one afternoon a week of inclusion. But it was just
tokenism. We didn’t want him going in just to do a bit of painting
or PE.”

Louise was of the opinion that if Ben was to be part of mainstream
society as an adult then he needed to be part of it as a child. So
she phoned another mainstream school nearby, and after an extra
year at pre-school, Ben started in reception when he was five.

Now aged 10, Ben splits his time between mainstream and special
school, but he prefers the mainstream school and most of his
friends are from there – the children have learned sign language so
that they can communicate with him.

“Ben looks different and doesn’t communicate as well or learn as
quickly but as far as they’re concerned he’s a member of their
class. They have learned that if you are different so what, you’re
still part of the community.”

Ben is determined to go to the same secondary school as his
brothers and meetings have already begun to set this up. He is
likely to have another mixed placement, but the mainstream and
special school have different lunch break times, which complicates

Louise says that arranging mainstream education has been worth the
effort. “I’m sure if he was full time in special school he’d be
happy but I am not convinced it is the best preparation for the
outside world. If I had a choice I’d shut them down and include
everyone in their neighbourhood school. If people with special
needs are shunted off to special school and sheltered workshops,
people don’t know how to relate to them.”

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