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Friday, 17 September, 1999, 07:25 GMT
Special schools raising standards
Standards are rising in schools for pupils with special needs, says a report from inspectors.
A report based on four years of inspections of 1,300 special schools in England by the Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted) - from 1994 to 1998 - has found an overall improvement in achievement.
The schools, which serve children with learning difficulties, behavioural problems and physical handicaps, were found to have improved steadily in the first three years of the study then to have made more rapid progress in the last year.
Inspectors have found that teaching is now "satisfactory or better" in nine out of ten schools, but there is still "much potential for further improvement".
There was particular progress in schools for children with behavioural and emotional difficulties - although the report says such schools are also the most likely to be among the lowest achievers.
The reasons for the improvement include a more effective adaptation of the National Curriculum to the particular needs of special school pupils and better documentation within schools.
The report, Special Education 1994-98: A Review of Special Schools, Secure Units and Pupil Referral Units in England, adds that the overall improvements come from "a low base".
"There are proportionately still far more failing schools and schools with serious weaknesses among special schools than mainstream ones. Children with special needs are entitled to the same high quality of education as other children," said the Chief Inspector for Schools in England, Chris Woodhead.
Range of difficulties
One of the schools Ofsted singles out for praise is Brent Knoll in Lewisham.
It caters for 135 children aged from four to 17 with a wider range of difficulties than most special schools - autism and Asperger syndrome, and physical problems such as brittle bone disease, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy, brain tumours and epilepsy, as well as language disorders.
"All pupils have a very positive attitude to learning," the inspectors say.
"They work enthusiastically, sustain concentration throughout lessons and persevere when they encounter difficulties."
The deputy headteacher, Sarah Lynch, told News Online that the key to helping the pupils to achieve their potential was to have the same expectations of them as there would be of children in mainstreams schools.
"I think the problem often is that people see the disability before they see the child.
"So here, you expect the same of your class in terms of behaviour, in terms of learning, as you would from a mainstream class. And they will aspire to that - nobody is going to aspire to a low expectation.
"Obviously everybody that works here has experience of working with children with special needs and an understanding of the conditions from which these children suffer or the nature of their particular learning difficulties.
"Despite that, if you have high expectations of them it is likely to be very successful."
There is also a knock-on effect in terms of integrating the children into mainstream schools.
"If they're following a mainstream curriculum, which we do - we offer GCSE, we do exactly the same national literacy and numeracy strategies - then when children reintegrate into mainstream it's not going to be such a culture shock," she said.
"An element of it will be difficult for them, socially, because it is quite a small and nurturing environment here. But in terms of what's expected of them in the classroom there shouldn't be a huge difference."
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