"Well, there is only one piece of advice I can give you," said the wisest of wise men. "The secret of happiness is to see all the marvels of the world and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon."

('The Alchemist' Paulo Coelho)

Monday, June 28, 2004

Special Needs

Some children in schools have what are known as Special Educational Needs. These are the children who need varying degrees of support to help them learn. Some also have physical disabilities to contend with. If they were in special schools, they would have all the extra support to hand - physiotherapy, toileting facilities, speech therapy etc. However, current thinking maintains that it is more beneficial to most children to be in mainstream education, unless they have severe physical or learning problems. (It's called inclusion.)
A good point, except that mainstream schools, ordinary neighbourhood primary schools, do not have the same pupil/teacher ratio, nor do they have access to anywhere near the same level of other professional support. While it is good for special needs children and other children alike to have time together, perhaps this arrangement does not benefit the former to quite the same extent.
Still, our ordinary mainstream schools are able to call on the support of professionals such as the Local Authority Support Service, speech therapists, occupational therapists, educational psychologists, aren't they?
Not exactly. Speech and occupational therapists, physiotherapists and the like are in constant short supply - so much so that children have to be seen on a rota basis.
Educational psychologists?
Well, they apparently come from a different planet and are also in short supply. In fact good ones seem to be very hard to find. The best one can hope for in the real world is one with whom the class teacher can build up such a relationship that she can 'tell him what to think'. In practical terms, this means that the Ed. Psych.
1)comes in to discuss and observe a designated child. (It is a bonus if he can focus on the correct child.)

2)asks the class teacher for her opinion on
a) the problem
b) the required course of action.

3) Goes away and writes his report regurgitating information gleaned from the class teacher.
N.B. If he is really lucky, the said class teacher will have written down her thoughts, observations and opinions, so all he needs is a scanner and printer!
In the past, at least, if his report was relevant to the child's needs, the result would be increased funding to pay for classroom support or necessary resources. Now, we are lucky if the school even gets that.
Improvement through Inclusion? I don't think so!


Sarah Millard said...

Refreshing to read this as it is now apparent that the frustration of inclusion is felt by "t'other side" aswell; get a coffee, this is a long one!!

My very best friend's son was "excluded" for the last week of the summer term 2 years ago, aged 5. He had bitten a child, been kept in over the remainder of the morning break, when it had happened, and allowed out to play over the lunch break. Alex then bit again during this break and things just spiralled unfortunately. The head at the school had, in my opinion, been intolerant of Alex in many areas for some time; I took a phone call from the school asking me to come and pick him up one day before all this, as he was unwell and my friend has no family nearby and works fulltime at a FE college some 20 miles from the school. I genuinely cannot remember what happened to make me feel this way, but I wanted to scoop Alex up and remove him, protect him, not let him be humiliated agin, by this teacher because the way she spoke to him in front of me, staff and, more significantly, other children, was unpleasant. The little boy was poorly with a temperature and probably sniffles or something, nothing awful, but feeling unwell nonetheless and I just remember thinking "God, I hope my kids aren't spoken to like that".
It dawned on me after the biting incident that, when Alex had been "punished" by being kept in, he was actually getting one-to-one interaction from staff, which he loves; he helped tidy up, fetched and carried and basically got praised for his good behaviour in that breaktime. Of course he was going to bite again if he thought it would get him that great attention again!!

Alex started in the September in another school and eventually in January this year, after much angst, he was "diagnosed" with Asperger's. What a relief!!! Still no real support, too expensive to "statement" (horrible verb), gets to ride a pony once a week with the local RDA and here, have some Disability Living Allowance, but due to inclusion, there has been no effective programme set up to develop Alex's social skills etc. (I can liken it to finally, after 7 visits to and from the GP with breathing problems when I was pregnant with no. 3, Sophie, I ended up in hospital when she was 3 weeks old with a full-on asthma attack. Here, have an inhaler)

Alex's childminder gave 4 weeks notice on Monday as she cannot cope with him. I am in the process of bullying my friend not to give up her job (she split from Alex's Dad when he was a year old and his sister 4, she studied for her teaching cert at night class and now teaches electrical engineering) and trying to help her get the help she needs.

My son spent his first term in High School in the "lowest" class, which actually gave him the breathing space he needed for a few weeks as he was always struggling against the mental image he had himself of his brother, a year older and always in the "highest" class. Imagine, then, the destruction of his already fragile self-esteem when he came home with a list of targets the class was expected to meet - read a newspaper each day, watch the news on TV every day etc. Great, but the paper was titled "Special Needs Targets". I angrily rang the school, asked who had compiled the list, was told it was his teacher who was also the SENCO and that it wouldn't happen again. (All this from the Head) I insisted that I don't have any problem with Nick having Special Ed Needs, but I do have a problem with the labelling of an entire class as "Special Needs". I was told that Nick doesn't have SEN but "how well some of the children from our school achieve. Why, one of our Special Needs has just graduated with a degree in (insert highflying subject here)", "Lovely", said I, "but he is still, after all these years just a label in your eyes". I asked for a copy of the school's SEN policy, was promised it in a brown envelope (beautifully restigmatised). Colour me surprised, it never arrived.
Nick was "promoted" (their words) up to the B class in January and thrives!
Sorry to rant, feel strongly!!

Sarah x

Alan Saunders said...

I speak from limited experience, but I think that when one or two children in a class of thirty occupy more than a quarter of the teacher's classroom time, there's something wrong somewhere.

Jennyta said...

All down to money of course. Children can only be statemented, with the extra funding that brings, if they are in special schools, so those who are not, have to be catered for in a normal classroom with far more limited financial resources and far less support.

Squirrel said...

Found a lot of useful info on your site about speech therapy - thank you. Haven't finished reading it yet but have bookmarked it so I don't lose it. I've just started a speech therapy blog myself if you'd like to stop by


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