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 Wednesday, 22 January, 2003, 16:04 GMT
Mother's plea for special schools
Sarah-Jane with her mum Jamia
Sarah-Jane with her mum Jamia
A mother of two children with cerebral palsy believes special schools should remain the cornerstone of education for severely disabled children.

Jamia Givan and her husband Stuart, from Edinburgh, adopted Sarah-Jane when she was two and Jamie when he was nine months old.

The children are now 12 and eight and both attend special schools in Scotland's capital.

Sara-Jane and Janie Givan
Sarah-Jane and her brother Jamie have cerebral palsy
Mrs Givan says the schools have transformed her children's lives.

"Sarah-Jane has limited speech, she cannot walk unaided and has the use of a powered wheelchair.

"She began attending Westerlea three years ago and since then her development has come on immensely, she is less disruptive, her speech has improved and she is able to sign and communicate better," she said.

Both Jamie and Sarah-Jane's special school education costs in the region of 860 a week.

Disruptive element

The Scottish Executive recently announced a 150,000 scheme to further its policy of integrating disabled children into mainstream schools.

But Mrs Givan does not believe that mainstream schooling is for her two children.

"An ordinary primary school was never going to be possible for Jamie.

I believe the gap between able children and disabled children like Sarah-Jane gets wider as they get older

Jamia Givan
"He would never cope with lots of people. At his school there are just six children in his class, all with similar disabilities. If he were mainstream taught he would be a disruption to others and he would not develop himself, " said Mrs Givan.

Sarah-Jane attended a mainstream nursery at the age of four.

Mrs Givan said: "At the time I was pleased, it felt like I had a normal, able child.

"But looking back, although I believe the experience was of value, it was never going to work long term.

"You quickly realise that other children do not want to play with a child who has an adult with them all day.

"While the nursery children Sarah-Jane was with have moved on from listening to songs from the Singing Kettle and have learned how to read and write, she has not.

Constant worry

"In fact I believe the gap between able children and disabled children like Sarah-Jane gets wider as they get older."

Mrs Givan hopes special schools will be around for the rest of her children's education.

Special needs facts
8,183 pupils in 197 publicly-funded special schools
1,038 pupils in 33 independent special schools
400 pupils at seven grant-aided special schools
"Whether they will exist tomorrow is a constant worry. I have written to First Minister Jack McConnell and Education Minister Cathy Jamieson for guarantees, but they have not given any.

"I have even written to Tony Blair, but my questions have not been answered," she added.

Charitable trust Capability Scotland, which runs Sarah-Jane's school, says there continues to be a place for special schools within the education sector.

A spokeswoman said: "Some children have very exceptional needs which can only be catered for in special schools. They need to have access to specialist care in therapy, nursing as well as education."

And a Scottish Executive spokeswoman said special schools would continue to play a vital role in supporting children who need "additional support to learn".

She added: "We recognise that there is a continuing need for diversity of provision if the needs of all children are to be met. Our commitment to developing inclusive policies includes support for special schools."

Special schools are paid for by local authorities who in turn receive financial aid from the executive's local government finance settlement.

See also:

22 Jan 03 | Scotland
08 Jul 02 | Education
25 Jun 02 | Scotland
24 Apr 01 | Scotland
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