Debate on special schools

    We asked:- Should there be more special schools for
    children with SEN?

    Here are some of the comments we received.

    “That’s like asking if one size will fit all.
    Here are my comments from a parent of a disabled child who is now
    nearly 18 years old.  They are not in any particular order of
    importance.  I have sat on education committees and other
    EARLY INTERVENTION – key consideration.  Best option from the
    beginning, you can always re-evaluate later.
    FLEXIBLE CURRICULUM – some special needs kids are never going to be
    able to do sport or similar activities, can they do something that
    they will shine at?
    INDIVIDUAL ASSESSMENT – one size does not fit all.  Each child
    should be individually assessed and a plan of learning developed to
    suit that child.  If it is mainstream, good, if not, what else can
    be offered?  Progress and goals should be set each term.
    ATTITUDES – can those in authority stop saying WE CAN’T and instead
    try saying something like WHAT CAN WE, OR HOW CAN WE?  Ee as
    parents know all about restrictions, limitation, budgets, but a
    simple change in attitude surely would be so much better, and
    achieve so much more.  Be positive. 
    There are loads of other issues that could be flagged, particularly
    ring-fencing budgets for SEN pupils, but the above four would head
    my list up.”
    Jane Dodgeon
    Parent representative for Contact a Family
    Ceredigion, Wales

    “Just what planet does Tim Walker live on? As a
    practitioner/trainer/manager with 37 years experience in the
    public, and voluntary and private sectors of residential child care
    and education, I was astounded and appalled by his remarks.

    We DO believe in the children we look after in our own
    registered schools; we DO assist them whenever possible to return
    to mainstream schooling; we DO have hopes and aspirations for them,
    and, I fear, Mr. Walker has libelled the very large numbers of
    education and care staff who do NOT hold “old attitudes, beliefs
    and misconceptions” when going about their tasks.

    Instead of blaming those of us who are trying to pick up the
    pieces for children who have been excluded, he should be
    celebrating the fact that there are others who continue to believe.
    If Tim Walker was trying to be controversial, then he succeeded. If
    he thought he was being ironic, then he missed by a mile. Give
    credit where it is due.”

    Keith Livie,
    Operations Manager (Children’s Services)

    “No, there should not be more special schools for children
    with SEN, but there should be an increase in SEN training for
    teachers in mainstream settings and more provision for inclusion to
    take place across the education system.

    “Closing special schools and forcing disabled children
    into unfamiliar settings where teachers are unprepared to meet
    their needs adequately is not the answer.

    “Scope’s Time to Get Equal campaign aims to achieve
    equality for disabled children and ensure that disabled children
    can attend their local school.

    “When Scope’s first school opened in the
    mid-1950’s, people said that disabled children couldn’t
    be educated. Times, thankfully, have moved on and we now need to
    recognise that not only are disabled children educable, but part of
    building a more tolerant and inclusive society, is ensuring that
    the education system reflects the diversity of society. Disabled
    and non-disabled children should learn and socialise together, so
    lets make this a reality for all.”

    Tony Manwaring
    Chief executive

    “I have personally lived with the Inclusion Debate for the
    past 20 years, as the dad of three young people who have
    Down’s Syndrome.

    I am also a long-experienced social care professional and have
    worked both in the fields of Learning Disability and Autism.

    Both my elder daughters have had excellent experiences of
    integrated education, neither of them having attended anything
    other than integrated settings. The elder one finished her
    mainstream school career with a GCSE in Expressive Arts, such was
    the commitment of the staff in the comprehensive school she
    attended to making the most of her abilities in a modified

    It is in this context that I find myself often disappointed with
    the one – dimensional reporting of the debate surrounding
    inclusion, and the fact that so often it is pupils with Autistic
    Spectrum Disorder who are given as examples of how inclusion does
    not suit everyone.

    It is frequently overlooked in these exchanges that unlike
    pupils with other Learning Disabilities, pupils with autism learn
    differently, and require different techniques to aid their
    understanding, as well as different support to interact with their
    peers. In this context it is understandable how sometimes their
    experiences of inclusive education can be disappointing, and
    alternative settings may well be preferable.

    But, it is dangerous, and misleading, to extend this argument
    more widely to other pupils with special needs and we will do many
    other children with a disability a disservice if we are too
    influenced by looking at the needs of groups of pupils, rather than
    the benefits to each individual child.

    And, as to whether we need more special schools – why are we
    hearing so very little about the potential benefits of special
    needs settings based on the same campus as mainstream schools?
    Children without a disability need to be familiar with the needs of
    their peers who require more support. Without daily contact, this
    is less likely, and the world will be a worse place for

    Chris Mitchell

    “It’s all down to what will best suit and meet the needs of
    the individual child.  For some, mainstream school is the best and
    this should always be considered and not dismissed out of hand (as
    would have been the case a few years ago). For others, a mixture
    will be good, offering opportunities for the special education they
    need and a chance to mix with other children, and for others an
    appropriate special school will be the best option.  My nephew who
    has autism is very happy and his needs are met at a special school,
    but I think he may benefit too from regular time in a mainstream
    school, which does not seem to be available.

    This is not an area where ideology and idealism should prevail. 
    Yes, all schools should be able to offer good quality education to
    all children, but we have to be realistic and we are not there
    yet.  Therefore the special schools and their committed and trained
    staff are needed to offer a good and much needed service in
    partnership with mainstream colleagues.”

    Ruth Cartwright
    Professional Officer, England
    British Association of Social Workers

    “Whilst working with children with SEN in the 1970’s, I
    fully supported the idea of inclusion into mainstream school.
    However, my vision of this was that:

    •  children would be fully supported, in realistically sized
    classes by people who had been trained to meet the child’s specific

    •  that schools would have adequate resources to allow them
    to access to any necessary additional services (e.g.
    Speech/Occupational Therapy)

    For many children in mainstream, this has not been the reality and
    so it has been difficult for schools to fully meet the needs of
    individuals, although it has helped children to integrate socially
    and remain part of their local community.

    One difficulty which we perhaps didn’t anticipate, but which we are
    beginning to see, is that young people in their mid to late teens
    who have used mainstream services exclusively are at risk of
    becoming isolated because they have not had the opportunity to make
    friends with other young people who have similar interests and
    needs to themselves.”

    Lesley Wilson
    Social Worker
    Family Support, Disabled Children Team
    North Somerset Council

    “I think it is not a question of more schools with SEN but
    the quality levels of existing schools and assessment
    procedures/monitoring process for current levels of support to
    students with SEN.  This is particularly apparent for deaf children
    with SEN.”
    Lynn Shannon
    Chief Executive
    Hampshire Deaf Association

    “The current policy of inclusion is fine in principle, but
    sadly lacking in its practice. Many hundreds of children with SEN
    are being used as ‘guinea-pigs’ in the inclusion programme.
    Although inclusion can work for a minority of these children, the
    vast majority are having their lives made a misery in mainstream
    schools. I speak from personal experience when I state that staff
    in mainstream are not equipped to deal with SEN pupils, and the
    whole ethos of mainstream education in regard to special needs,
    must change to avoid the SEN pupils being segregated, and made to
    feel ‘different’ , from their peers.
    A whole generation of SEN pupils are being ‘sacrificed’ in order to
    help LEA budgets, but this is being done in the name of
    Special Schools, and their dedicated staff, are the right setting
    for most SEN pupils, and these schools should have the almost
    constant threat of closure removed, and they should be expanded and
    exalted at the highest level.
    I will be happy to debate the wide area of ‘inclusion’ with all
    interested parties, but I appeal to government and LEA’s, think of
    the children concerned, before condemning them to years of misery
    and low self-esteem.
    I am a parent of a young man who has had previous experience of
    both SEN schools and mainstream. I am also a SEN school
    John Wakeling
    Senior social work practitioner


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