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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 February, 2004, 12:40 GMT
Special schools or inclusion?
By Angela Harrison
BBC News Online education staff

classroom scene
The government wants greater integration
Twenty-seven children sit on the carpet for number time.

"Nicholas, which coins shall I use to pay the shopkeeper 54p?" asks Ms Allan, who is standing in for the class teacher.

The seven year old doesn't answer.

Today he doesn't feel like Nicholas, he feels like his alter-ego, Rico.

"I am Rico, I am Rico," he says.

Nicholas, who is autistic, continues like this for some time, getting louder and more insistent.

His class teacher usually acknowledges Rico, and the change of attitude is bothering him.

As he becomes more insistent, the other children fidget a little but remain quiet and un-phased by Nicholas' outbursts.

The government's drive to inclusive education for all children is a well-meaning but misguided strategy
Liz Lismore, parent
They have got to know and like him very well and seem to accept the episode and his differences as they accept all the other intricacies of their school lives.

Ms Allan shows great patience and tries to get Nicholas to focus on the lesson, while trying to teach the rest of the class, but Nicholas' mind can't shift from the question of his identity.

The volume is high, and continuing with Nicholas in the class becomes impossible so Ms Allan asks a classroom assistant to take him to the welfare room.

Once out of the class, he lets go of his obsession and gets interested in other things.

As an autistic child in a mainstream school, Nicholas receives one-on-one support for many activities, from an assistant who works to encourage him and help him focus.

This is what his parents wanted and in general they are pleased with the education he is getting in both academic and social terms.

"We want him to live a full life, so sending him to a mainstream school was very important to us," said his mother, Alice.

"Academically, he is working well and is strong in numeracy and literacy."

'Second-best'

The government is committed to integrating more and more children with special needs into mainstream schools.

But not all parents of children with special needs want their child fully integrated.

The term special educational needs covers such a broad range of difficulties that children have with learning that it is not surprising that parents are often divided on what is best for their children.

Elizabeth Lismore does not believe that full integration would be right for her daughter, Louise, who has difficulties with speech and language.

At the moment, her parents say she is thriving in a special language unit within a mainstream primary school.

Louise, who is eight, takes lessons such as PE, music and ICT, with the other third year children at the school but has small-group teaching with other children from the language unit in literacy and numeracy.

"This gives them the benefits of social interaction with their peers in a non-demanding atmosphere and it means they do not feel intimidated by underachieving in a classroom full of children who can do what they can't," said Mrs Lismore.

"I strongly feel that the government's drive to inclusive education for all SEN (special needs) children is a well-meaning but misguided strategy.

"It does not put the child's best interests first. There is no way at the moment that an SEN child will receive the input they need to achieve their full potential in a mainstream classroom.

"The pressures of dealing with 30 children often in cramped conditions with shared resources and a prescriptive curriculum that strangles any attempt to explore means that these children will only ever receive second best."




SEE ALSO:
New plan for special needs pupils
11 Feb 04  |  Education
Helping the most troubled pupils
11 Feb 04  |  Education
Boys dominate 'special needs'
29 Nov 02  |  Education
Fears for special needs schools
19 Jan 04  |  Leicestershire
Special needs school pressure
21 Oct 02  |  Education


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