Wednesday, 21 January 2015

"He should have gone to school

last year," the weeping mother told me, "And now they say he can't go this year either." We had this conversation at the beginning of January.
Her son is now six. He has a medical condition which makes him doubly incontinent. There are other serious health problems too. 
His parents were asked to delay his entry into school for a year "to see whether things improve". They haven't.
I can understand the family's local schools not wanting to take the child and I think the parents do as well. There needs to be a qualified nurse in attendance - or someone fully trained to take care of his special needs.
There is nowhere for him to go. There might have been once.
I came away feeling frustrated at having to advise correspondence school lessons - which the teachers at the hospital school will continue whenever he is there. He's going to be lonely because he is an only child and his physical problems mean that mixing with other children is always going to be difficult. A school dedicated to children with needs like his would make life very different.
There is very little "special education" left in this state. It was all about "integration" and only the most difficult and disruptive students are removed from the "normal" classroom.  We have been told that "mainstreaming" is the way to go.
I had doubts from the beginning and the doubts have grown over the years. Yesterday there was an article in the Guardian talking about how many special schools in England were getting an "excellent" report from the OFSTED inspectors. The article asked why this was not being publicised. Suggestions were even made that the inspectors were just giving them those ratings out of sympathy. I would say that was utter rubbish. In my experience school inspectors are more likely to be critical. They know special schools are more expensive to run and when money is tight - as it usually is in education - they would be looking for excuses to close such schools.  
No, a good special school can be very good indeed. It can be outstanding. It can give children the skills to move into other schools and it give them the skills to move out into the community. It can make the most of a child's abilities. It won't make a child with a permanent disability "normal" but it can make the child a great citizen.   
I wonder whether the real problem with special schools is something else. If you are mainstreamed then you can pretend that, at least in some ways, things are "normal". You can pretend that the child is "accepted" and is "part of society" and is "doing most of the things that other kids do". You don't need to feel "guilty". It makes you feel better. The child is being "socialised" and has "normal" friends. Somehow that makes the child "normal" too.  Special schools are said to deny those vital "normal" experiences.
About six years ago I went to the last school reunion of an outstanding special school. It was about to close for good. In that room there were two people with doctorates, three more with degrees, and at least seven with other good post-school qualifications. All but the most profoundly disabled students with additional communication impairments were employed. The school had handled physically disabled students with profound hearing losses and with severe visual impairments.  It had all happened because of the intensive specialist work put in by the staff and the students - all day and every day.
Children with similar impairments are now out in ordinary schools. They get limited help from a classroom teacher - who has responsibilities for other children too. They get some help from teacher aides - if they are lucky. They might, if they are lucky, get some specialist assistance once a week from a peripatetic teacher with some additional qualifications. It's not the same. It can never be the same.
And some children cannot go to school at all.


Joanna St. James said...

That's so sad, I have a friend who's kid is constantly in the principals office even during lunchtime. They are trying to integrate him and the teachers are already too overworked, so they just send him to the principals office.

catdownunder said...

well he won't get integrated that way - but, sadly, it is about what I would expect