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TX: 10.06.03 - ARE TOO MANY CHILDREN WITH SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS TAUGHT IN MAINSTREAM SCHOOLS?


PRESENTER: LIZ BARCLAY


BARCLAY
Now should children with special education needs be taught in special schools specially equipped for their needs? A row has broken out between one of the main teachers' unions and the Disability Rights Commission over just that. The latest figures from the Department for Education and Skills show that children with the most serious special educational needs - those with so-called statements -are four times more likely to be permanently excluded from school than other pupils.

Eamonn O'KANE, general secretary of the teachers' union the NASUWT, says that this shows the policy of teaching as many pupils as possible in mainstream schools is proving to be a disaster for both pupils and their teachers. In response the Disability Rights Commission has accused the NASUWT of mounting a discriminatory campaign to keep special needs pupils out of mainstream schools. Bob NIVEN is chief executive of the Disability Rights Commission and Eamonn O'KANE, as I said, is general secretary of the NASUWT. Eamonn O'KANE why have you called the inclusion policy a disaster?

O'KANE
Well I was simply commenting on those figures. The fact that children with statements are four times more likely to be excluded in schools, there's clearly a problem. And our point, consistently, has been that while we certainly want to see children educated in schools with special needs there are occasions when such children find the environment of a mainstream school one that they cannot cope with and they've got to be taught outside it. So therefore the policy of inclusivity, as it's called, has to be qualified by that. I'm amazed actually at the reaction of the Disability Rights Commission when they accused the NASUWT of being in favour of segregation which I actually do believe is deeply offensive to thousands of teachers who teach these children day in and day out.

BARCLAY
I'm going to put that to Bob NIVEN but you say that there is - what is causing this problem?

O'KANE
Often it's a result of several factors, one there may be many occasions, indeed most occasions, not enough support for the teachers in the schools, often the children themselves have great difficulty in adjusting to the tempo and to the nature of the actual mainstream school and they have themselves tremendous difficulties. And many teachers feel actually deeply sorry for these youngsters, that they often are struggling in an environment which they find it difficult to adjust. So while it is possible for many of the children to be dealt with in a mainstream education there are other occasions, as I say, when the children need special care and attention which can only be provided in an environment outside the mainstream schools.

BARCLAY
Bob NIVEN from the DRC you are accusing the NASUWT of supporting segregation in education but from what Eamonn's saying it sounds as if you're rather over-reacting to his comments?

NIVEN
Well I'd first of all like to say I don't think the policy has been a disaster and I'd like to pay tribute to the thousands and thousands of school teachers, many of them members of Eamonn's union, who are doing an excellent job on this front. And I think there's a lot we agree with, in terms of what the union's been saying, this is a policy that's going to bring benefits for all, young people with and without special education needs and for schools being enriched and we agree with the union that teachers are entitled to more support of the sort that Eamonn's described. What worries us about what the union is saying is that they're going to, if we're not careful, cause a self-fulfilling prophesy - we're going to put the clock back by saying because there are some difficulties therefore we need to go back to the presumption that by and large these young children should go into special schools rather than mainstream and that would be a worrying development.

BARCLAY
But is that really what they're saying, isn't Eamonn simply saying we're getting to the stage where some pupils who are attending mainstream schools when their needs would be better catered for at special schools, that mainstream schooling can't be unqualified?

NIVEN
Well nobody's ever said that the mainstream schooling should be unqualified, the law doesn't say that, it's not policy etc. Each case needs to be treated on its merits, case by case. And what worries us, although we have worked in the past and we look forward to working again with the union, is that this sort of impression is being given that the big problem that requires a reversal of the policies that are in place where in fact it's a minority problem we can take it case by case and let's do it on that basis.

BARCLAY
Eamonn O'KANE a survey last December from the Disability Rights Commission revealed that a quarter of young disabled people feel discriminated against in school. Should you not be striving to improve the service you give disabled pupils in mainstream schools and reduce discrimination rather than calling for more special needs pupils to go to special schools?

O'KANE
Well I'd like to make a distinction here of course, the youngsters with disabilities we do welcome into schools, that's not the issue I'm dealing with here, in fact in many circumstances and indeed most circumstances I believe that's a progressive development and one that's good for the other youngsters who are able to actually cooperate and to work alongside children with their disabilities. It of course requires sometimes quite a significant investment in terms of resources and adaptations to buildings and so on. What I'm talking about here are children, particularly youngsters with emotional behavioural difficulties, where they can experience these problems. And you see the point I'd make is we're not - in one sense it is a slight reversal we're looking for, the fact is there has been a deep ideological commitment to including all children, nearly irrespective of the problems they might have in mainstream schools. Now one understands and is aware of the philosophy behind it but frankly the practical implications there for the work of teachers and other youngsters in the schools does cause really significant problems and I think it's that reservation - and it's a real reservation which many teachers have and Bob, I know, will know this from reports of our conference and conferences of other teacher unions - that this is something that teachers struggle with on a daily basis and can cause the most enormous problems within schools.

BARCLAY
Bob NIVEN very briefly where do we go from here?

NIVEN
I think we need to keep a sense of proportion, there are some difficult cases and they must be treated on a case by case basis. I think we must press ahead with the inclusive programme, it's the right policy and we'd like to work with the union and indeed everybody else to make sure that that is continued and is a success.

BARCLAY
Bob NIVEN from the DRC and Eamonn O'KANE from the NASUWT thank you for joining us.






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