Special needs policy has failed, say teachers

18 May 06
Educating children with special needs in mainstream schools is a policy that has failed all pupils, teachers' leaders said this week.

19 May 2006

Educating children with special needs in mainstream schools is a policy that has failed all pupils, teachers' leaders said this week.

The cost of inclusion, a hard-hitting report commissioned by the National Union of Teachers from Cambridge University said lack of resources was putting a huge strain on teachers and teaching assistants as they struggled to cope with the medical conditions and mental illnesses presented by some of their more challenging pupils.

NUT general secretary Steve Sinnott called for a halt to the closure of special schools and urged the government to conduct an urgent review of inclusion as both a policy and in practice.

He said: '[The government] must put an end to the stress and strain experienced by teachers, support staff, parents and youngsters alike. All children are entitled to high quality teaching and learning and high standards in every classroom.'

The May 16 report cited examples of teachers grappling with personal care tasks, such as administering tracheotomies or changing nappies rather than teaching, which meant the education of mainstream pupils was often neglected. In other cases, special educational needs pupils were often left to the care of teaching assistants who lack the necessary expertise.

Author John MacBeath said inclusion was not working properly if it was not meeting a child's needs.

'It is a form of abuse to place children in a situation totally inappropriate for them,' he said. 'Every child has the right to be taught by a qualified teacher.'

MacBeath and fellow author Maurice Galton said that although teachers believed in the principle of inclusion and tried to make it work, shortages of resources and expertise coupled with demands to perform well in league tables was frustrating this aim.

'It is the tensions between the two agendas – standards and needs – and the pressure exerted on teachers to meet curriculum targets in an underfunded environment which will achieve poor results for all pupils,' the report said.

The authors added that there was a need to think more widely and more flexibly about how a wide range of provision can be secured to ensure inclusion is a success. Special schools should evolve into centres of expertise, they said, rather than function as dumping grounds for difficult children.

Schools minister Andrew Adonis said children with special needs were taught successfully in a range of settings.

'Children should be taught in mainstream schools where this is what their parents want and it is not incompatible with the efficient education of other children. We also want pupils for whom this is not an option to benefit from high quality education and for strong links to be forged between special and mainstream schools so pupils can mix with their peers,' he said.


Did you enjoy this article?