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October 12, 2004

Warnock says mainstream schools fail disabled pupils

From: Independent, UK - Oct 12, 2004

By Richard Garner, Education Editor

12 October 2004

The woman who pioneered the drive towards teaching disabled children in mainstream state schools is now calling for a major rethink of the policy because too many are being bullied.

Mary Warnock, whose report on special education 25 years ago began the move towards greater inclusion, says today that many children "are simply unfit to manage in the bewildering environment of a large school".

As a result, they face being bullied or removed to special units in the schools which are "isolated from their contemporaries". She adds: "They are fragile children who above all need to know and be known by their teachers."

Baroness Warnock's call comes in advance of a report by inspectors, due to be published this morning, which is expected to warn that the drive towards inclusion has led to many children being admitted to mainstream schools that do not have the resources to cope with their needs. Ofsted, the education standards watchdog which is publishing the report, will say that the schools need more specially trained staff to meet the pupils' needs.

Lady Warnock, writing in Report, the magazine of the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, says that Labour's creation of "new kinds of schools ... invented to raise academic standards" has made it more difficult for disabled children to survive in them and therefore sits uneasily with the Government's pro-inclusion "mantra". "Such schools depend crucially on their position in the league tables and are therefore not likely to welcome those who will be low-achievers," she says.

"Such children will not, in any case, be well served if they are taught mainly by classroom assistants or are removed into units isolated from their contemporaries. And they are likely to encounter bullying."

Lady Warnock also calls for the scrapping of statements ­ used since her earlier report to define the educational needs of children with disabilities in mainstream schools. TheAudit Commission said that they had become "irretrievably bureaucratic".

She argues, however, that they could still be used for "new" small and committed special schools. "The numbers of special schools would rise but their prestige would rise equally," she says. "Government could stop being defensive about the continuing role for special schools: they would become crucial."

Tim Collins, the Conservative education spokesman, said that 70 special schools had closed since Labour came to power in 1997. "People talk about inclusion in mainstream schools but far too often it amounts to children with special needs being taught temporarily in rooms like broom cupboards."

Leaders of the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers are also calling for more special schools to be built. They have warned that the drive towards inclusion had led to an increase in disciplinary problems as children with mental disabilities or behaviour problems had been admitted to mainstream schools.

Under legislation, local education authorities are obliged to educate children with special needs in mainstream schools if their parents wish it and if it does not interfere with the efficient education of other children.

A spokeswoman for the Department for Education and Skills said: "The Government wants children to be educated in mainstream schools wherever possible but it sees a continuing role for special schools in educating children with the most severe and complex needs and working much more closely with mainstream schools to share expertise."

Meanwhile, a study by researchers at University College, Chester, has found that one unintended consequence of inclusion is that youngsters are taking part in fewer out-of-hours activities, because they cannot take part in after-school sports clubs arranged for able-bodied children.


A reorganisation of special education in Bradford could rob deaf secondary school pupils of their only local specialist sign language school.

One plan to be considered by councillors tonight would be for Thorn Park School for the Deaf, a British Sign Language school for nearly 100 deaf children aged between two and 18, to move to another site and take in only primary-aged children. The secondary school pupils would transfer to a specialist unit in a mainstream secondary school.

The idea appals Yvette Gartery, whose 12-year-old son, Jordan, now attends Thorn Park after spending his primary years in a specialist unit at a mainstream school.

"If you're taught in a class, say, with 30 hearing children and six deaf, by the time the interpreter has told the children what the teacher has said, the teacher has moved on to another topic," she said. "It makes it very difficult for them to ask questions if they don't understand."

She said she wanted Jordan to stay at Thorn Park because of its "excellent" exams record. Pupils average six GCSE passes.

Under Bradford's plan, which is expected to go out for public consultation, 10 special schools would close and six new ones open up.

A council spokesman said that one option would be for Thorn Park to stay as it is. He added that Bradford would increase special provision in some areas.

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