Friday, June 10, 2005

Anger over Warnock's criticism of special schools

From the Guardian:
"Educationalist Lady Warnock, who in 1978 advocated greater inclusion, conceded that the policy had backfired, leaving a "disastrous legacy."

In the pamphlet, published today by the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, she called for a radical review of the closure of special schools, arguing that pressure to include children with special needs had led to "confusion, of which children were the casualties."
It's swings and roundabouts: anyone acquainted with 19th century British social history will tell you that the Victorians just loved their institutions. The favoured solution to the social problems presented by the sick, the poor, the orphans and widows, the deaf and the dumb, the mentally ill - not to mention society's criminal elements - was to segregate them and dump them in these institutions.

That there should have been, in the late-20th century, a backlash against this rather hard-faced approach is entirely understandable and the well-meaning desire to "mainstream" children with learning and behavioural problems into regular primary and secondary schools was a part of that. However, I think you'll find few people working in education today that would disagree with the proposition that this process has been overdone somewhat.

Most teachers have had pupils, who in the past would've gone to a special educational facility, who simply cannot cope with the mainstream educational experience. Moreover, we're reluctant to take the blame for a lack of success in this area because most of us haven't been trained to deal with this level of need. I'm a Secondary teacher - and my training works on the assumption that the children I teach from first year can read and write. All of us have had children who are not literate. One feels guilty because there's no doubt that their needs are not being catered for but I simply don't know how to teach basic literacy - even if I knew what the obstacle to them learning to read and write was in the first place.

"Social inclusion" in education is a bit like "care in the community"; motivated by the best intentions but as the policy hits the ground, inevitably planners at the local authority level see it as an opportunity to save on the undoubted costs of sustaining specialist educational facilities.

As it stands at present, the inclusion policy consists of the belief that results can spring from simply throwing everyone - teachers, social workers and psychologists, along with children with a wide range of emotional, educational and physical needs - into the same space. It is, frankly, an idea that has rather more in common with a superstition, rather than a coherent strategy for education - and Lady Warnock's comments are an entirely welcome and refreshing contribution to the debate.

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