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EDITIONS
Tuesday, 9 February, 1999, 14:10 GMT
Really special
graphic
Exhall Grange believes in challenging its pupils, whatever their abilities or disabilities.

"Our emphasis is: high expectations for all," said the headteacher, Richard Bignell, "in the sense that if a child has learning difficulties it is not very sensible to measure academic results but we are about maximising potential - and really being special.

Ofsted annual 98
"So much special education has been, if you like, caring, but inferior to what children might expect in a mainstream school, especially secondary education.

"At the end of it children might have been happy but they have not been challenged and have not achieved as they should have done."

Zealous

Mr Bignell is blind. He went to a special school himself, where he swam and rode as well as studying, took A levels, went to university. He was, he says, lucky in having had a good schooling - but is aware that many children who went through special schools have had "a raw deal".

"I would claim to be almost zealous in the belief that special should be truly special: the children should get something better, should have a right to something better, and I hope I have created that through my teaching."

He is not averse to change - though not for change's sake. He thinks the trend towards fewer special schools and more 'inclusive' education - with children in mainstream schools - will continue in the next century. But those that remain will be, like Exhall Grange, centres of excellence and expertise, supporting the wider education establishment.

Exhall Grange has is set in 35 leafy acres on the northern edge of Coventry. It has room for 250 boys and girls of all abilities between the ages of two and 19. Up to 100 of them live in.

Mr Bignell was one of the 14 headteachers invited to a seminar with the prime minister at Downing Street on Tuesday morning to discuss raising standards in schools.

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