observations about education

I have been volunteering at the local special school for a while now, and I’ve noticed something interesting: there is a much higher proportion of kids with learning disabilities and behavioural problems at our local special school than there was at the one I attended as a kid. I guess well over 90% of the kids at the school round the corner must have a learning disability, compared to, as a rough estimate, 40% to 60% at mine. I think there are more kids just with learning disabilities at the local school too, and fewer wheelchair users. Of course, this can be explained in a number of ways, most simply by pure chance: that’s just the way the statistics fell. Yet I suspect there are other factors involved. Bear in mind that I was at school just under 10 years ago, having left in 2001, and much would have happened since.

I think that this may be an effect of inclusion. More and more kids with less complex physical disabilities are being put into mainstream education. I guess that the needs of physically disabled kids are much simpler to meet than those of kids with learning disabilities: often we just need stuff like ramps, large-print books and communication aids, and we’re good to go. The needs of those with learning disabilities – especially complex ones – are harder to resolve. And there are children with some very complex LD at the school I volunteer at. Of course I’m overgeneralising here, as all children need a lot of care and support no matter what kind of disability they have.

As a result, the ratio of kids with LD and BED to those with PD has shot up. Of course, you could argue that these kids should be in mainstream too, and they should be, but I now think it’s just not that simple. My friend charlotte has told me how rough it can get in mainstream school, and how hard it is for her, as a teacher, to control the kids sometimes. It can be very violent, and rather brutal. It is hard to see how the type of kids I have encountered at the local special school could survive, let alone get anything out of, such a setting. There are kids who are physically able but simply could not mentally handle being in a class of twenty to thirty rambunctious adolescents; and if they said anything their peers would simply rip them apart.

Yet this results in a school like the school I’m volunteering at, with hundreds of students, each with very complex needs. Staff there do their best to teach, and I try to help however I can, but the situation is often so complex that progress becomes very slow indeed. I’m now seeing how very difficult this situation is: as inclusion proceeds, special schools are left with higher and higher concentrations of kids with more and more complex conditions, and the result is that education in such places gets harder and harder. This is nit to say that it’s impossible to educate in such places, but I guess inclusion has meant it has become much more difficult since I left school.

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