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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