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Monday, 3 December, 2001, 19:03 GMT
Disabled pupils 'inspire teachers'
Filsham Valley has pupils with a range of different needs
What effect does having disabled pupils in class have on teachers?

One deputy head argues that, while it may be hard work, integration can benefit the professionals as well as the children.

By BBC News Online's Katherine Sellgren

Filsham Valley School in St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex has offered places for up to 55 disabled and blind pupils for the past seven years.

School work
"It's about an attitude rather than a resource"
Deputy head there Helen Kenwood believes this policy of inclusion has had wide-ranging benefits for all the pupils - and not least, for her staff.

"They're better teachers as a result, they need to plan lessons more carefully to take account of those children.

"It has raised their awareness of children with disabilities - for example, when planning a trip out, they have to remember some practical considerations such as toilet arrangements for the journey or disabled access at wherever it is we're going," said Mrs Kenwood.

Pupils aware

Filsham Valley has pupils with a range of special needs, from spina bifida to cerebral palsy, from Asperger's syndrome (a form of autism) to blindness and many are in wheelchairs.

From September next year - under the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act - all children with disabilities and learning difficulties will have the right to be educated in mainstream institutions.

And an NOP survey of 2,000 people for the Disability Rights Commission showed two-thirds were in favour of disabled children being included in this way.

Filsham Valley though has been taking in such pupils for seven years, since it took children from a local special school which was closed down - but it is luckier than most because the site is purpose-built.

No longer excluded

The merger had benefited the disabled pupils, because they no longer felt set apart, said Mrs Kenwood.

"Some of them were in the special school before and they do appreciate not feeling excluded or segregated in any way - they never have the feeling they're different.

School work
Non-disabled children have also benefited
"They have full access to a normal secondary curriculum, facilities and opportunities.

"They have the ability to make friends with disabled or non-disabled children, whichever they choose," she said.

Non-disabled children have a greater awareness of disability as a result of attending the school and many children and their parents had chosen the school precisely because it was inclusive, she added.

But do the disabled children get picked on?

"All schools have bullies - but I'd say the disabled children are least likely to be bullied because we've done a lot of work in school to give pupils knowledge about the various conditions."

Building - no obstacle

So what advice would Mrs Kenwood offer to those schools which are not purpose built and where staff are concerned about the implications of the new legislation?

She believes even schools with the most impractical buildings can offer places to pupils with disabilities.

"It's about an attitude rather than a resource," she said.

"I've visited a school in Tower Hamlets that has a tremendous attitude towards inclusion and yet it has the worst building for this.

"But they've done some lateral thinking and have been very creative in terms of bringing the timetable to the children if they can't get to class.

"It's about working out alternative ways of doing things and the building shouldn't stop you from doing that," Mrs Kenwood said.

Photos courtesy of Filsham Valley School.

See also:

13 Mar 01 | Education
Disabled pupils 'challenge barriers'
06 Dec 00 | Education
Anti-bias law for disabled pupils
22 Dec 00 | Education
Schools' special needs 'deluge'
01 Nov 00 | Education
Blind learners 'denied access'
20 Apr 00 | Health
Disability in depth
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