Wow! What a debate to start the New Year with! In my last blog I concentrated on the ‘mechanics’ of the system and said that pondering on what it means was for for another discussion….well this is it!
Since I have been teaching there has been a shifting view on this with the closure of special schools and a move towards more inclusive mainstream classrooms. This has largely coincided with the actualisation of ‘care in the community’ and the shutting down of homes for adults with mental health issues. Both of these have had their disastrous moments; the notion of putting bewildered and often frightened children and adults in settings they cannot cope with is a seriously flawed one. Newspaper headings in the ’80s and ’90s screamed about unsolicited killings of innocent people just going quietly about their business , attacked with knives and samurai swords; inevitably the perpetrator was ‘under the doctor’ but had stopped taking medication or was released from psychiatric care with no further supervision. ‘Care in the community’ became sarcastically synonymous with a lack of care, with the unwary public like lambs to the slaughter…literally! In education, campaigning parents fought to save their children’s special schools and told heartrending tales of the inferior provision they were now being subjected to!
So what is inclusion? Is it about SEND or something deeper?
When I was at school I was bullied….primary and at grammar school….it didn’t help that my mum was a teacher at the latter! I wasn’t one of the high flyers….they existed in their own rarified atmosphere and were largely left alone. I was in the middle-to-bottom group with the street fighters and the rebels…..the ‘back row’ girls! I caused my poor mum endless heartache….truanting and being rebellious……I hated school with a passion! Ironic eh? (maybe that’s what drew me to a PRU!) The point is I never felt ‘included’….I was on the outside looking in….I sought acceptance, but never really achieved it! I couldn’t wait to leave!!!
My son ( grown up – he has given me permission to speak about him) was diagnosed with a right-sided weakness when he was a baby! I knew there was a problem but an eminent paediatrician dismissed it! It was thanks to the tenacity of my health visitor that he attended a Child Development Centre and received a diagnosis. His early years were punctuated with agonising treatments eg serial plastering and intense physiotherapy. I remember my despair when a lady at the clinic said ‘never mind love…these children compensate by having very nice natures’. She was trying to console but her words cut me to the quick! What did she mean? Was he going to be severely disabled? Mentally impaired? I read @nancygedge and empathise so much. It feels like your child is being written off! As a baby! Fortunately he responded to a degree….he still has stiffness and you can see it more when he’s tired….but he has a nice nature….and is bright….and has been to university and got a good degree!
When he went to school there was talk of statementing. He had to wear a leather and iron caliper which fed into a leather boot. The school were great! The staff patiently undid his caliper for P.E. The prongs were forever springing out of his boot! The headteacher spent ages wrestling to put them back! He found sport difficult. I can remember one sports day the young male teacher heaved him on his back and ran with him! His great friend had cerebral palsy and needed a TA for her physical needs. Was the school inclusive? You bet! And we are going back over twenty years now!
Secondary school loomed and I admit I was apprehensive, remembering my own miserable years. He was so happy at primary and had many friends but we had moved away and he wouldn’t know anyone at his new school. We chose a small high school with a young, new head; we liked her vision and her ethos and her sense of caring. On his ‘taster’ day she was there to greet him personally and looked after him. His best friend was a bit of a ‘hard nut’….often fighting and in trouble….but he had a big heart and looked out for my boy! I waited for the bullying to start….his limp….his lack of sportiness and physical strength….but it didn’t. He was so content there with loads of friends and this has continued through college and higher education!
So I come back to my original question. What is inclusion? Is it about SEN? Obviously, for some kids, yes. My son was fortunate to manage in mainstream…others with his condition had a more debilitating kind and needed specialist provision. Its not just about SEN….I was *normal* but existed on the fringes until I went to college as a mature student to do my degree.
At my own school ( no real surprise I was drawn to a PRU) the children often have a mixture of both….undiagnosed SEN and behavioural issues which isolate them socially…..this is a debate we need to have. Otherwise we will end up with ‘care in the community’ which effectively excludes adults for the rest of their lives.