Press

The future of special educational needs in the county has been thrust firmly into the spotlight by the critical Ofsted Report into the local education authority.

The report offers something for both supporters and opponents of the authorityís policy of integrating more children with moderate learning difficulties into the countyís mainstream schools.

Supporters will claim that the main criticism is levelled not at the policy, but at the drawn out way in which it is being implemented. We are not convinced that this interpretation is borne out by examination of what the report actually says.

The historic situation of the county council with no single political party holding overall contro and, until recently, no effective pact between parties, has held back the development of strategy for special educational needs, in Ofstedís view.

The result it says, ďis that the strategy, such as it is, has taken a long time to emerge, is fragmented and is not being implemented effectively.

Ofsted is not simply calling for the education authority to implement its existing strategy more quickly. It is demanding that the strategy be clearer and more cohesive. And there is one crucial passage in the report that will strengthen the resolve of those opposed to the policy.

Most serious of all, says the report, although the documentation makes constant references to inclusion and facilitating access, it fails to show how the proposed changes will raise the standards of achievement of pupils with special educational needs.

This is the crux of the debate about the inclusion policy.

Despite its consultation process, the education authority has failed to convince many parents of special needs children that moving them into mainstream schools will not damage their education, let alone raise their standards of achievement. And there are head teachers of mainstream schools who have reservations about whether there will be enough additional resource to enable them to absorb special needs children successfully.

The Ofsted report makes it clear that there are legitimate reasons for these concerns. The education authority must address them.

 Spencer Feeney, Editor The Citizen, Editorial, 9/1/02

"Today the Echo publishes the Letter of Objection which parents fighting to save the county's special schools hope will add weight to their cause.

We do so because we believe the closures are being pursued as a matter of policy regardless of the public's wishes.

We are in no doubt that the county council will revile us for saying so. Officers will protest that they have bent over backwards to consult parents. A series of public meetings have been held and the closure decision was not taken lightly.

They have to face up to the fact, however, that the decision to close the four schools for children with moderate learning difficulties was taken in principle years ago. And the consultation exercise was more about telling than listening and changing their mind was never a realistic option."

Anita Syvret, Editor The Gloucestershire Echo, Editorial 3/3/2000
 

"If anyone at the education authority finds it difficult to understand why they [parents of special needs children] are so worried, they need only read our main letter on this page.

In his own words 13 year old Peter Schofield describes what it was like being a special needs child in a mainstream school.

How many of us would willingly submit submit our children to a situation where they were forced to eat their lunch in isolation?

That is not integration, and these parents fear their children will suffer similar or worse humiliations.

Another letter writer tonight says, most of these parents are not fearfully resisting the unknown; they have experience of their children in mainstream schools, and they know it has not worked for them.

This paper remains steadfast in its support for these parents and their children.

No education policy is worth one sad, isolated and frightened child."

Spencer Feeney, Editor The Citizen, Editorial 17/3/2000

Peter was rescued from his misery, not by the intervention of the Gloucestershire LEA, but by Mohamed Al Fayed.

KEEP THESE SCHOOLS SPECIAL

Its not difficult to understand why the education secretary, David Blunkett, is so opposed to special schools for disabled children or those with learning difficulties. The expectations for a young blind boy would have been low in Sheffield during the Fifties and Sixties. We know how hard he had to struggle to make his way in the mainstream. Had I not received a letter this week from Nina Levic from Oxford, I would have agreed with him. Nina's experience has changed my mind. She and her husband are teachers so they know a bit about the professional side of this question, in addition to being loving articulate parents. They noticed that their daughter, Evi, was not as quick as her peers when she was only three. She was assessed as having special needs.

The Local Authority was sympathetic and although they insisted she should be integrated into a mainstream school, saying it was not good for her to be isolated, they did provide her with a personal computer and promised she would have one-to-one attention. But learning assistants were absorbed into the system, because of staff shortages. Thirty pupils in a class made it impossible for Evi to enjoy the vigilance she needed. Her Personal computer was lost. The most touching part of Nina's letter is where she describes a whole year from the ages of 12 to 13, where she picked up Evi from school each day so that they could have lunch together. None of the other children would sit with her. Eventually, Evi sobbed out her pain. The other children called her Spastic and Idiot; she could not follow what went on in class. She's now 16 and in a special school where, her mother says, deep expertise has refashioned her. Once she was a person that hid from the world, now she is confident enough to work in her spare time as a volunteer at a residential home for adults with cerebral palsy.

Mr Blunkett should talk to the Levicks before any more special schools are phased out. There is no point arguing that every child is "entitled" to a mainstream education if the weak, which Mr Blunkett surely is not, are crushed by it.

Daily Express, 7/3/00
 

Report on increased bullying in mainstream schools

"Shocking" new figures reveal more then a third of school children may have been bullied in the past year.

A poll carried out for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers says 36% of 16 year olds in England and Wales have been bullied, 26% have been threatened with violence and 13% have been subject to physical attack.
The report also reveals that younger pupils are twice as likely to experience bullying than older pupils. Just over half 11 year olds will report an incident compared to a quarter of 15 / 16 year olds. Older pupils are more likely to feel their teachers are not aware of bullying.

The situation appears to be getting worse despite the efforts of Government and the home school agreements. The Government is putting £500 million into schools to help schools deal with problem children in schools as a part of their social inclusion policy, but teachers warn against going too far with this policy as it would make it impossible for them to maintain control and discipline.

BBC News 17/04/00
 

Vernon Harwood

On his early morning phone in show on BBC Radio Gloucestershire, Vernon has hosted many phone ins on the Special Schools issue. Opposite is his cloumn from the Citzen on the day following the decission to close Dean Hall and Oakdene Schools.

The steps of Shire Hall must rival Piccadilly Circus and the fast road out of Dudley as the busiest place in Britain.

Once again angry and aggrieved locals have taken their protests to the politiciansí front door. This time parents and teachers opposed to the closure of special schools in Gloucestershire.

Iím no expert on education and I have no experience of the special needs system, but it doesnít take Einstein to work out that the public consultation on this issue leaves a lot to be desired.

The future of Dean Hall School near Coleford is easily the most controversial issue and an example of a public relations disaster for the county council.

A series of meetings was held for the public to discuss the closure plans, while other gatherings took place solely for the parents and governors concerned. But questions have already been asked about how well those meetings were publicised.

At the beginning of the second round of consultation Shire Hall was accused of not listening. A claim backed up by the fact that despite widespread opposition there were no changes to the original proposals. Itís obvious that the protestors will not go  without a fight. So thereís a simple lesson for Gloucestershires decision makers. Either consult the people at the sharp end and react to what they have to say or come clean by stating from the outset that youíve made your minds up.

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