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June 16, 2006

School where all children are treated equally

From: Belfast Telegraph, United Kingdom - Jun 16, 2006

By Bob McCullough

Cregagh Primary's attractive new school on Belfast's Mount Merrion Avenue was built in 2002.

It was specifically designed to foster inclusion by ensuring that each hearing impaired child's access to the curriculum is as broad and balanced as possible.

The separate Key Stage One (4-8 years) and Two (8-11 years) classes are positioned around two central resource areas that are used by all staff members for team teaching.

Hearing impaired pupils receive specialist support for core subjects, while other curricular areas are covered by team teaching with mainstream staff, and the school has an up-to-date computer suite.

Both classrooms are fitted with interactive whiteboards and Soundfield Systems. The teachers have radio microphones, which broadcast through four wall-mounted speakers with perfect sound.

There is a wonderfully happy atmosphere about the unit and one couple spoke of the thrill it gave them seeing their daughter progress academically - and enjoying it into the bargain.

Songs From Around The World was the theme for the open meeting on Tuesday morning, and the children put on a display of singing and dancing before principal Ronnie Milligan welcomed special guests Dr Margaret Du Feu, a psychiatrist working with deaf people, and Caroline Doherty, the Healthy Minds officer at the National Deaf Children's Society.

Mr Milligan told us he regarded children with special needs as just as much in need of a good education as the other pupils in his school and he had no truck with misguided folk who spoke about 'coping'.

"No", he said, "we don't cope; we do better than that. We have six highly qualified members of staff in the unit and head teacher Mary McCartan was voted Special Needs regional winner for 2005. I am determined to explore all avenues, including sign language, to facilitate communication with these children."

Dr Du Feu herself experienced hearing loss after qualifying and wears a cochlear implant.

She spoke on the risk to mental health by neglecting communication and told us about the bad old days when ignorance about hearing loss doomed many deaf people to incarceration in mental hospitals where they spent lives of almost total isolation and loneliness.

The parents of one of her clients had emphasised to her how much they loved their son, but when she remarked on this to the young man he replied that he knew his parents loved him ? but all his life they had expected him to make the effort to speak so that they could understand him.

They never made the effort to learn sign language to make it easier for him to understand them.

Caroline spoke for us all when she congratulated the principal and staff on the great work they have done encouraging the deaf children to become an integral part of Cregagh Primary and on promoting such a positive and happy environment.

"Confidence building is a very important part of education", she said, "and it's part of my job at the NDCS to encourage parents to take their deaf children to as many social activities as possible and experience the ups and downs of life in the same way as their hearing peers.

"It's been a joy to meet you all today and see the good work taking place at this school."

© 2006 Independent News and Media (NI)
a division of Independent News & media (UK) Ltd