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EDITIONS
 Monday, 2 September, 2002, 13:01 GMT 14:01 UK
Analysis: Schooling for disabled children
child writing
The debate continues on the best way forward

The legislation which has just come into force which prevents schools and universities from acting in ways which would place disabled students at a disadvantage is bound to be welcomed.

Few people would argue that in a perfect world you would want to be segregated - but the perfect world is a long way off

Like motherhood and apple pie, no-one is going to cavil at the principle of not disadvantaging people.

And after all, this only brings education into line with the providers of other goods and services, who have been bound by the Disability Discrimination Act for the past three years.

Places of education must now, by law, have policies in place which take into account the requirements of children and students with disabilities both at the point of entry, and in subsequent teaching.

Ongoing debate

This includes physical access to buildings, but perhaps more importantly is intended to cover teaching methods, and attitudes to students.

And the onus is now on schools and universities to ascertain any special needs students have, either in terms of equipment, or in methods of teaching.

Again, no-one is likely to argue about the principle, but there is still much debate about the best ways of bringing this about, which are not solved by the stroke of a legislator's pen.

For a start, there is often an assumption that not "disadvantaging" students, must mean placing them in mainstream education.

It is, after all, a logical consequence of "inclusion", the intention which the government says is the basis of its policy toward disabled people.

But not everyone, disabled or otherwise, shares that view in education, or at least, not to be achieved at any cost.

Fears

The worries of some teachers are well-documented. Some argue that their profession is already hopelessly overstretched, and that if "inclusion" is intended to apply to virtually everyone, then schools will just not be able to cope, and other pupils will suffer.

Such objectors are often particularly concerned about the extension of the term "special needs" to pupils with so-called challenging behaviour.

What's perhaps less readily recognised is that for every parent or pupil fighting to be accepted into mainstream schools, you can find another who still believes that under present conditions, special provision in a special school is likely to give their child a better chance of achieving their full potential.

That phrase "in present conditions" is crucial.

Imperfect world

Few people, disabled or otherwise, would argue that in a perfect world you would want to be separated and segregated; but the perfect world is still a long way off, and greater resources are needed than mainstream schools are able or willing to provide to achieve equal opportunity.

Such people would argue that treating someone equally does not mean treating them the same as other pupils.

On the contrary, they say that only by recognising special needs - learning in Braille, for instance, or on a one-to-one basis, or using sign language - can real equality be achieved.

And - with the current level of training and lack of resources in mainstream schools - this is not always likely to happen.

Such parents not only often want their children to go to special schools, but fear that with the creaming off of more able children with disabilities to mainstream schools, the standards of the special schools which still remain are being watered down.

Inclusion

It remains to be seen how even-handed the ethos of parental choice, claimed to be an important element in the new legislation, is likely to be.

When challenged on this, successive education ministers have said that they want diversity, and that special schools will still have a place, as a resource if not as separate educational establishments.

But the new act is also being sold as "inclusive".

The truth is that we don't yet know whether "inclusion" as it is currently resourced, can deliver the opportunity to disabled students to achieve their full potential - which is, after all, a hard trick to pull off for any child, disabled or not.

See also:

01 Sep 02 | Education
28 Aug 02 | Education
06 Nov 00 | Education
03 Dec 01 | Education
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