Should special schools close?

An education think-tank has urged the government to
close special schools and ensure disabled children are taught in
mainstream schools.

Legislation issued last year said that children should
be educated with all other children unless it was against their
parents’ wishes, or it affected other children’s

Clare Jerrom looks at the issues and finds
fierce local opposition to the proposed closure of some special

The Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education called for
separate special schools to be phased out, and for the government
to take a “firmer lead” to encourage authorities to develop
stronger inclusion policies in two separate reports published this

The central problem in the development of inclusive education in
the UK is the continuing philosophical, financial and legislative
support of segregated schooling, one of the reports published in
‘Inclusion Week’ said.

It claims separate schooling is internationally recognised as
being discriminatory, that it violates children’s rights to
inclusive education and breaches all four principles underpinning
the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The report calls for the phased closure of separate special
schools, and argues that all resources from special schools should
be transferred to mainstream settings, which should be restructured
to increase their capacity to respond to student diversity in its

The second report highlights that more disabled children are
being included and educated in mainstream schools, but draws
attention to the “wide and disturbing variations in approaches to
placing disabled pupils by different English local education

“In 2001, for example, a disabled pupil in Manchester was more
than seven times as likely to be placed in a segregated special
school than a child in the London borough of Newham,” the report

Founder of the CSIE Mark Vaughan said: “In 1999, Newham also
came top in the country for best improvements in GCSE results,
demonstrating that properly resourced inclusion can go hand in hand
with better academic results.”

Assistant director of education at Manchester council, Jackie
Harrop, said, however, that over the past year the local authority
had carried out a radical review of provision in special schools,
and there were plans for the closure of six schools.

The authority had been working with pupils who had recently been
subject to a statement of needs, and had already almost doubled the
rate of inclusion, she said.

The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001, which was
enacted in September, says that children with special educational
needs should be educated in mainstream schools unless this would be
against the parents’ wishes or it affected the efficient
education of other children.

Since the legislation was introduced, the Disability Rights
Commission has been running a campaign, ‘Educating for
Equality’, to ensure disabled pupils have the same
opportunities as everyone else.

Commission campaigns manager Tom Berry said it was early days
since the act was introduced, but there had been a shift towards
choice being extended.

But a spokesperson for the National Union of Teachers warned
that teachers in mainstream schools would also need support. Any
change in schools requires in-service training for teachers as
their original teacher training may not have equipped them.

“We are not opposed to integration, but it has to be to the
benefit of the child in need, and not to the detriment of other
children in schools,” the spokesperson said. “Behavioural problems
can destroy the education of the other 30 children in the

Disability charity Scope supports inclusion, and believes it
should be more widely available than at present. Policy and
research officer Caroline Cooke said:”We suspect the caveats of the
act are sometimes used as an excuse for refusing a child a place in
a mainstream school.”

The charity recognises that not all schools are geared up for
inclusion, and Cooke said that in some of Scope’s special
schools, inclusion projects had been introduced whereby children
attending the special school spend a few hours a week in a
mainstream school.

Cooke also highlighted that some parents have a real battle in
obtaining a mainstream school place for their child.

But not all parents are keen for their children to attend
mainstream schools. Earlier this month, the Gloucestershire Special
Schools Protection League marched in protest at the county
council’s plans. It believes the proposals would include the
closure of Oakdene school for children with severe learning
difficulties and Dean Hall for children with moderate learning
difficulties, which are both in Cinderford, Forest of Dean.

“The league has been formed principally by the parents of
special needs children to oppose the proposed plans by
Gloucestershire county council to close all MLD special schools and
25 per cent of EBD special schools, under the guise of increasing
inclusion for SEN children,” the league’s website says.

League chairperson Graham Barton claims that since 1994,
Gloucestershire education department has refused to consider a
child for a special school placement unless the child is four years
behind his/her peers in core subjects.”What self-worth has the
child got then?”

“It is ideology gone mad,” he added.

Barton, who has a daughter with learning difficulties, says
parents often “leap at the lifeline” if a LEA says their child can
manage in a mainstream school. But, he warns, often children become
isolated in class, withdrawn and unhappy, whereas in special
schools children with learning difficulties can make friends with
peers with similar difficulties and become happier in this

“We do want as much change in the education system to allow as
many children with learning difficulties to go to mainstream school
if they want to go and if their parents are in agreement,” Barton
said. “However equally important are special schools for those
children where mainstream school is not an option.”

Both CSIE reports from 0117 344 4007

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