Let me start this entry by admitting that my parents were right about two things: they were right when they said that I am crap at planning stuff, and they were right when they said that Hebden Green was a waste of time. Both of these things I realised, once and for all, yesterday.
I had been invited to a meeting of a local disability network by Becca – who, I should say, is fast becoming a good friend of mine – part of whose agenda concerned inclusive schooling. I am becoming increasingly aware just how sinister the segregation between mainstream and ‘special’ schools is: report after report shows the gaping divide between these two types of school in terms of quality of education. Socially, the fact that students with special needs are taken to completely separate schools, using completely different school busses, is reminiscent of apartheid. Thus, when Becca invited me to a meeting where this issue would be discussed, I thought it a valuable use of my time to attend.
The problem was getting there. I had to ask Luke to take me, which, noble man that he is, he agreed to do, even though it meant him taking hours out of his time. This was not helped by the fact that the directions and map I got from the internet were as accurate as using a toothpick for a compass needle, and to cut a long story short, we arrived over an hour and a half late at our destination…
…which, thanks to the beurocratic nature of such organisations, meant we arrived during an opening discussion on how minutes were taken. We entered the meeting hall, and instantly were invited to sit next to Becca and Katie, who I had communicated a lot over the net with, but had never actually met. I must admit that I am very much impressed with Becca’s vast knowledge of the issue, her resolve, and her determination: due to Katie’s condition, bringing them both up to Manchester from north London must not have been easy, either. Nevertheless, we had arrived well before the discussion on inclusive schooling was to begin, which meant I had time to get a cup of tea, and assess my surroundings.
Most people there had disabilities of various kinds. I think me, Katie, Becca and Luke were the youngest people there. Gemma, an highly articulate woman with CP, was the chief speaker, but Felicity – an AB former teacher – seemed to be chair. However, it soon became apparent how much in fighting and petty beurocratic squabbling there was even within this meting of some ten people. Myself, Becca, Katie and Gemma seemed united over the issue, which, since we had all experienced the special school system to varying degrees, I think is quite natural, yet various other (older) people seemed only to care for their particular social subgroup, and, it must be said, were cantankerous almost to the point of being an obstacle.
Nevertheless, one of the outcomes of this meeting was the idea that we should set up a specialist conference about the issue of inclusive schooling, with workshops about the various aspects of the issue. There are many hurdles to overcome, both physical and social. On the physical side, there is the problem that many existing mainstream schools are not adapted for disabled pupils – there are stairs where lifts are needed, doors are often too arrow for larger wheelchairs, and so on. However, it seems that the social problems involved are far more insidious: although what physical problems there are can be overcome by making adaptations to the school, whether they will be made by a council which does not seem to want to make them is another question entirely. During the meeting, Becca pointed out that only one English borough had signed an international accord on inclusive schooling. Time and time again, such councils find reasons – a more appropriate word would be excuses – not to implement inclusion, a fact which this report clearly shows. When governments choose to send kids to different schools, for whatever reason, there can only be one term for it: apartheid.
Like the struggle in south Africa before 1992, the struggle to make education truly inclusive will be long and hard. But yesterday, I vowed to see it through, helping Becca and Katie however I can.