When you fall pregnant, people ask you extraordinary questions. “Was it planned?” was perhaps the most insensitive, but if that baby has a disability or other needs peoples self monitoring really takes your breath away.
Thus, on a weekday in term time I am regularly asked “where’s Pearl?”
I know I’m not alone in this, and I can’t quite work out why.
Perhaps the wider public only see SEND children “in extremis”on DIY SOS or Children in Need. Maybe they think that these children are ill, lying in invalid chairs, and being kept out of the sun? Or are they permanently hospitalized? Seems unlikely that they believe that Pearl is at home with me, while I home educate her, as it must be obvious I have the patience of a dead hedgehog.
I’ll let you all in to a little secret, you may not see Pearl in the local primary, but that is because she is busy honing her leadership skills at her excellent special school Horton Lodge.
Children with additional needs are in fact children too! Who knew ? They laugh, cry and demand attention just like their neurotypical friends, and like them, they mainly go to school! They may miss more lessons because of medical appointments, they may fall ill more often, and more severely. When they are well, off to school they go. It is (as I told my older two when they didn’t want to go in) the law of the land.
Historically Special Schools kept children occupied during the day, the best obviously achieved more, but expectations were not high.
Several decades ago, during my SALT training, schools were separated into Moderate Learning Difficulties, Severe Learning Difficulties and Physically Handicapped.
Shortly after this integration became the gold standard and many specialist special schools were closed to allow people to be taught together in mainstream. Unfortunately integration without extra money or training often led to lip service being given to integration, while pupils were isolated in a separate room with a TA. Generic special schools began to cater for the more complex children,and now specialist provision for autism is also on the rise.
What does this tell us about Special Education? Well, like general educational provision it is ruled by the will and whim of the political elite, and similarly affected by lack of resources. Special Schools require Ofsted reports and a Governing Body. They too can become Academies, and also follow the National Curriculum.
BUT, and here’s the thing, they follow a diversified, enriched curriculum.The subject headings are the same, but the means of covering them, and the level at which they are covered, is guided by the individual learners ability and style of learning.
It could be argued that all teachers should be able to do this, and that education should be an enjoyable, enriching path to a lifetimes learning, but that dear reader is to underestimate the vital necessity of league tables, marks and passing and failing to our daily lives. Well quite.
SEND children are educated in mainstream with TA support, at home by parents with more patience than this one, or Special School with intervention from various therapies and School Nurses alongside the teaching staff.They will learn in a variety of ways, some passing exams and going onto further study, some following a sensory curriculum and learning to react and express themselves in different ways.
A few really lucky ones will end up at Horton Lodge Community Special School,where they will leave with amazing self esteem, a can do attitude and a general belief that they are the equal of anyone. Shouldn’t that be the aim of education?
Does this approach prepare them for the real world? More on that tomorrow…..