The case for special schools in the education of children with cerebral palsy
Baroness Warnock’s report in 1978 advocated inclusion of children with SEN into mainstream education and, on the strength of this report, many special schools were closed. In 2005, though, Baroness Warnock admitted that this policy had gone too far, leaving “a disastrous legacy”. She accepted the idea that many children with severe educational needs had become isolated in mainstream schools.
Inclusion is fine when it works, but it clearly doesn’t work for everyone. Teachers in most special schools receive training that enables then to understand complex conditions like cerebral palsy and how they affect learning. They are trained to deal with students’ complex needs and are supported by physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists and medical professionals in the production of individual educational plans targeted to help every child reach his or her potential.
In a special school, children with conditions such as cerebral palsy may not feel as isolated as they would in a mainstream school and it is also likely that they will suffer less bullying, enabling them to develop at their own pace in a secure and supportive environment. Of equal importance is the positive impact special schools can have on parents. They are surrounded by a network of professionals and other parents with whom they can share concerns.
The Government’s SEN Green Paper of 2011 and its recently published Next Steps document reflect many of the issues and suggestions that were raised by disabled young people, families and professionals. Children’s Minister Sarah Tether has stated that parental choice is at the heart of the Green Paper. “Parents know what type of education they want for their child and they should be allowed to decide if that is in mainstream or special school. We propose to strengthen parental choice by improving the range and diversity of schools from which parents can choose”, she said. The Government is clearly recognising a need for all kinds of provision, special schools being a vital part of the overall spectrum.
Special schools are no longer viewed as “little more than places of containment”, as at the time of the Warnock report, but the Prime Minister David Cameron feels there is an unfair disparity between the number of special schools closed down and their measured achievement. “Not one of those special schools was shut because Ofsted listed it as performing badly”, he said. Indeed, Ofsted figures for 2005 – 2006 show that eight out of ten special schools were rated “good” or “outstanding”, while just two per cent were seen as inadequate, compared with 13 per cent of mainstream schools. Mr Cameron feels that “the assault on popular special schools is disastrous for children. The needs of these children must not be sacrificed to an ideology of inclusion.”
The debate will continue but the good news is that both the Government and the Opposition seem to see the need for a range and diversity of provision which will try to meet the needs of every child. If parents have full access to comprehensive, easy to understand information about all the education options for their child, this will help them make an informed choice of the type of school their child will attend. The best education is one that meets the needs of every student, irrespective of the type of school. The key to finding the best placement is to have a proper and full assessment of need, ensuring information about the schools is readily available and easy to understand and that, following an informed choice, the correct placement is agreed and funded accordingly.
Ed Turner is from the Percy Hedley Foundation, which has been supporting those with cerebral palsy for over 50 years: