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TX: 17.06.05 - Baroness Warnock

PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY
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THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.

BARCLAY
Now the pressure to include pupils with special educational needs in mainstream schools, rather than sending them to special schools, has left a disastrous legacy, causing a confusion of which children are the casualties and the system of statementing, by which those with the most severe needs are assessed for extra help is wasteful, bureaucratic and should be reconsidered. It's not the first time that we've heard those views expressed on You and Yours but this time they come from the architect of inclusion and statementing. Baroness Warnock chaired the committee of inquiry that reported in 1978 and paved the way for the system that we have today, but now she's calling for a new inquiry to be set up and would like to see a new generation of special schools. But Baroness Warnock's thinking is counter to government policy. Education minister Beverley Hughes said in the Commons yesterday that she was against calls from the opposition for a moratorium on the current programme of special schools closures.

ACTUALITY - HOUSE OF COMMONS
HUGHES
I think a moratorium on special schools on closures at the moment would create complete gridlock in the system, would create chaos and great uncertainty for parents, it would create difficulties for local authorities who are trying to go through a process of reorganising and improving schools. Sometimes that does involve closure. But if he looks across the country he will see that where there has been closures there have almost always been merges, opening of new schools, extension of existing schools because what local authorities are trying to do is to provide an improved service and better provision.

BARCLAY
Education minister Beverley Hughes.

One woman who took her concerns about the closure of special schools right to the top is Maria Hutchings. She provided us with one of the more memorable moments of this year's Election campaign when she harangued Tony Blair during a live television debate because Cedar House, the special school attended by her 10-year-old autistic son, was threatened with closure. She told me what a struggle she'd had to get her son into Cedar House in the first place.

HUTCHINGS
My saving grace is that I had an excellent social worker. She said something very true, she said - You're going to be fighting the fight of your life, everything you want for your son you'll have to fight for, it won't just fall into your lap. And indeed I did fight. John Paul got to age 4-5, I was told he'd probably never speak, in fact the head of speech therapy after two sessions said don't bring him again, he doesn't know what he's doing, doesn't know where he is, forget it. And I was told well 99% he would never read and write. I managed to get on to the statementing process, which was an absolute minefield. I would call the statement the passport to the services that you need. You have to get the diagnosis because you have to get the label for your child and in the words of my social worker - get the label, to get the passport, to get the things you need for your child, then throw the label away.

We actually got to the stage then where they were going to statement my son and we had to put a school on the statement. I was led to believe that parental choice was paramount, but all the advice I had was that because he had autism and severe learning disabilities and his speech was so poor that he should go to a severe learning disabled school.

Now I think here one of the most fundamental things in this whole issue of special needs education is it's not about mainstream and special needs schools. It's about mainstream, moderate learning disabled schools and severe learning disabled schools. Tony Blair might be pouring money into special needs schools - this is going into the severe learning side. The MLD side - moderate learning disabled school - where my son is at is your middle tier of children, 90% of them have actually already failed in mainstream, we have children at our school at 8 and 9 talking about suicide from consequent bullying and confusion and not being able to function in mainstream. But these children are the children that have the potential to actually give back to society, to become independent, not to live off benefits.

My son was autistic but one of the impairments for autism is the inability to socially interact. The area education officer called me in for three hours with his eight inch file, thick file, and said to me - I know all about your son, I've read about his case, he can go to mainstream with an assistant for 20 hours a week. Well excuse me, my son couldn't even walk in a room with more than 10 or 15 people in and there was no way he could possibly have known my son's case by what he said but I was pressured endlessly to put him into mainstream. But being an open minded person I said I'll go and have a look at mainstream. I went to four mainstream schools, two of which said that they had inclusion. The first school I went to the little boy who was five, who was autistic, was in the classroom alright but he was behind a four foot white screen, totally surrounded, with his learning assistant or teaching assistant who was a very lovely lady who cared compassionately about him but had absolutely no training in his problems or how to help educate this child.

BARCLAY
So what did Cedar House give him then?

HUTCHINGS
Everything. Cedar Hall - when he went there the first day he was there they put a lump of play dough in front of him, for 45 minutes he looked at it, he couldn't cross thresholds to go into another classroom or into the dinner hall. He used to spend the playground [sic] walking along one white line. He was totally oblivious to the world that was going on around him. His teacher has a masters in autism, he started to sit down, concentrate and learn in a classroom environment. It's not just him, I've seen other children go in there, they're like whirling dervishes and within a few months they're sitting down learning and they've got the most tremendous self-esteem. You go to their assemblies and their concerts, they're better behaved than kids in mainstream. Now my experience in all of this culminates in one thing and that is that I think there are very few children in this bag of MLD children - moderate learning disabled children - that can actually benefit from the mainstream environment and also that we cannot jeopardise - and I think this is absolutely fundamental - the education of ordinary mainstream children. I have teachers telling me, off the record, because they're politically correct too, we cannot teach, we cannot cope, nobody wants to listen to us, these children disrupt lessons through no fault of their own but that's what's happening and we are building the biggest time bomb we could ever have built in education.

BARCLAY
Maria, thank you very much indeed for that.

Baroness Warnock, you've heard there what Maria has had to say. Is this the sort of thing that's prompted you to write this paper and to speak out now?

WARNOCK
Yes it is very much. I didn't know Maria then but her story - well John Paul's story - exactly illustrates what I think we've been shutting our eyes to for far too long. The people who advise government and ministers tend to think that disability - special needs - is one basket in which all special needs children can be counted, it may well be that this was something that our committee was partly responsible for and I would accept that because we wanted to get away from the thought that children who were - who had disabilities could be diagnosed as if they were ill and could be treated completely separately and their education completely separate from children in mainstream schools. So in the 1970s we had a job to do, which was to make the concept of education itself something that could embrace all children whatever their disabilities. And I think that was the message of our report, which was in a way inclusive. But anyway the 1981 act came along and our report was more or less word for word incorporated into that act. But it did include the proviso that children should be in mainstream schools where it didn't disrupt the education of other children. Since then, of course, the numbers of children who are disruptive have grown enormously and the degree of their disruption has grown enormously. And therefore there's an ever increasing body of children who are in the middle of the ability range really and it's those children, I think, who are being let down along with all the children who want to learn in school, maybe very bright, but who actually find it impossible to concentrate in the sort of mayhem that's in the classroom.

So I think increasingly over the years things have deteriorated in mainstream schools for both these groups of pupils.

BARCLAY
Let's go back and have a look at why all of this happened in the first place. We shouldn't forget how things looked in 1974 when your original report was commissioned. It was only two years earlier that education had become a right for all children. Before then thousands of children were just simply written off. One such child was Mark Ellis, he's now 47, he suffers from cerebral palsy, he was unable to read until he was in his 30s because the medical profession assumed that he was uneducable and I spoke to Mark and to his father Tom about the battle they had to get Mark educated.

TOM
He was going to a school in Liverpool called Green Bank for disabled people and Mark was going everyday. And for some reason or other he didn't want to go and I could never find out the reason why. Eventually he was classed as being disruptive in the class but nobody ever told us the reason why. And ironically it was true this that we got a chance to met the educational psychologist here in Liverpool, a Dr Michael McCorlick [phon.], apparently the school had asked this psychologist to examine Mark or assess him because he was so disruptive in the classroom. That was their side of the story. When we got down there and we seen Dr McCorlick and we got talking with him he began to realise there was something wrong somewhere and he asked us what things did Mark do at home. And we explained that he liked watching TV and usually listened to the radio - music, he loved music, also played chess and was quite surprised at this, when we mentioned about him playing chess. For a cerebral palsy boy at that age to play chess was quite something out of the ordinary. He assessed Mark by sending a psychologist to our house and the psychologist put Mark through his ropes and came up 100%, he said there's nothing wrong with this child, you know. It was only then that we put forward these things in motion and Mark started going to a day centre. Mark was attending [indistinct word] community at Muirhead College where there was a wonderful man, ex-police inspector, retired police inspector, named Alan Leach who was [indistinct words]. And after seeing Mark for a short time he rang us up and his mum and I went to visit him at the college and he explained to me, he said you know Mark, he's great potential, he says, has anyone told you? I said - Well we've been trying to tell the doctors this for the last 30 years and nobody seems to be taking any notice. So he recommended a college in Coventry and he told us to apply for a grant for Mark, which we did do, and Mark went there for three years, couldn't read or write when he went, and eventually came home at the end of three years with seven City Guilds, NVQs and other exam papers. After coming home he done the Open University exams, passed that. He done the Liverpool Community exams and passed that and eventually he ended up at Liverpool University and he's at Liverpool College University here in Liverpool.

BARCLAY
Mark, why did you decide to go to university?

MARK THROUGH HIS FATHER
Because I wanted to prove I could it.

BARCLAY
Do you have a message then Mark for other people who could find themselves in a similar situation to you?

MARK THROUGH HIS FATHER
Yes, if you want to go for it there's nothing stopping you. If I can do it, anybody can.

BARCLAY
Tell me something about the time you spent there.

MARK THROUGH HIS FATHER
He made a lot of friends and he was just accepted by everybody as a student.

BARCLAY
What do you want to do next, have you got any plans?

MARK THROUGH HIS FATHER
He would love to go for an MA in sociology.

BARCLAY
Are you thinking about employment prospects?

MARK THROUGH HIS FATHER
He would like to work with disabled students.

BARCLAY
Mark, is there anything else that you'd like to say about how you feel you've been treated over the years, about how the doctors treated your case?

MARK THROUGH HIS FATHER
He feels that they let him down.

BARCLAY
Mark and Tom Ellis.

Baroness Warnock, it's interesting that although Mark is profoundly physically disabled he clearly appreciated mixing with other students at college, that's what inclusion is all about, it obviously can work even for the most severely disabled.

WARNOCK
Yes, I think it can work very well and I think it certainly works very well in a case of someone like Mark who is extremely intelligent but deeply physically disabled. What is so scandalous of course is that in the old days he was regarded as ineducable and nobody had any way apparently of distinguishing his visible disabilities from his internal intelligence. And of course the fact that he could play chess ought to have been an obvious marker. But I think this was very important to members of the committee when we first met in 1974 that we knew there had been people like Mark who were simply written off, they weren't educated at all, if they were lucky they went to a training centre and with people who were profoundly intellectually disabled and no distinction was made between them at all. So I think what we did make possible was the realisation that education, not just care, not just shoving away into a corner to keep quiet but education, teaching, was possible for all children.

BARCLAY
What do you want to see now? You've said it needs another fundamental review of the system, what do you think should come out of that review?

WARNOCK
I believe that the system that was introduced as a result of our report, which was that some children should have statements of special needs and other children though they had special needs would not have statements, I think that has proved a really bad mistake, I have to say, and that has been proved to this day, because local authorities have been so completely deprived of money that they began to put into the statement not what the child needed but what they reckoned they could at a pinch afford. And that has led to endless conflict, and endless very expensive tribunals. So I think that is something that needs to be rethought, I'm not sure how but it's got to be rethought.

BARCLAY
And what about inclusion itself, how should that be rethought?

WARNOCK
That I think is a much more important question, the answer is a matter of administration. I'd like to see small special schools that were specialising in the middle ground children with moderate learning difficulties or with autism or with Down's Syndrome but low grade Down's Syndrome - children who can be taught and can make vast improvements. Now I think this is a different problem from the very, very severely handicapped children who I think probably also ought to be in small special schools.

BARCLAY
Do you think there will ever be the resources set aside to see that dream realised?

WARNOCK
Well if they're not then it seems to me that whatever government is in power is being very short sighted because the children that I'm talking about can lead useful independent lives and will not be a drain on the public purse forever. But if they are excluded from school, drop out of school, don't learn anything then they will be a drain on the public purse forever. The difficulty of course is that money goes into education and different money goes to social services or whatnot just to look after them later. It's very difficult to get these two things brought together.

BARCLAY
According to the Disability Rights Commission the debate over special schools or mainstream education is simply missing the point, they say that the problem is low expectations and poor opportunities in school whether in special or mainstream settings. They point out that 24% of disabled people, aged between 16 and 24, have no qualifications, that's nearly double the number of non-disabled people of the same age and that in turn leads to a lifetime of exclusion and low opportunities. What do you say to that?

WARNOCK
Well I say the last part of that statement is absolutely true - it does lead to a lifetime of low expectations and no opportunities. But the remedy for this I think may well be that the disabled children should be not grouped together as a whole homogenous class of children but that we should all over again look at what the individual child needs where he can learn. And then that means that inclusion doesn't necessarily mean inclusion in the mainstream classroom, it means inclusion in the whole educational enterprise and a child is included where he is learning in surroundings where he feels that he belongs. And there is hope, there is hope because there are 12 schools which are specialist schools - in Blair's sense of specialist schools - where they specialise in IT skills, whatever it is, but they are confined to children who have moderate learning difficulties for whatever reason. And I have visited one of these schools which is the most wonderful school. It's a secondary school, it has only 450 pupils, it has a staff who love teaching there, therefore it's a stable staff, and the pupils at this school are intensely proud of the school, their behaviour is meticulously good, there's no bullying in the school and of course because it's an IT specialist school the parents themselves come in in the evenings and do classes and increase their skills. So it's part of the community. And I think if that idea were exploited further this would be an enormous step forward.

BARCLAY
Baroness Warnock.

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