I read the New year’s honours list a few days ago and was extremely pleased to see that Professor Barry Carpenter had received an OBE for his services to children with special needs. If you are not familiar with his work it centres around children with Complex Learning Difficulties and Disabilities. These children are often prematurely born or have suffered trauma during birth. They may have no sight, no hearing, and often cannot move unaided. How do you teach children who are so severely sensory impaired. As a SEND teacher with post graduate qualifications I had little idea how to reach children like that. I can tell you it’s extremely challenging! Professor Barry came in to my school a few years ago and worked directly with us and showed us how to teach these children using his Engagement Profile. Since his visit we are more confident that we are doing our best to teach children with complex needs.
I will give you one example. We had a boy who was totally VI and was tube fed. He couldn’t speak and was a two person lift at all times. We also discovered that he had no sensation in his hands and feet which had previously gone undiscovered due to his other difficulties. Teaching him was the most challenging thing I have ever done. It stretched me like nothing before or since but I got there. It wasn’t just me. It was my whole school. We pooled our expertise and knowledge and learned from the Professor when he came and we taught our boy. Eventually our boy died which was incredibly sad but his legacy lives on in our new sensory room dedicated to him. More than that, as a school we are confident that we can now teach children with profound and complex needs.
As I have been reading all the wonderful posts over the weekend from the SEND bloggers a thought struck me concerning inclusion. Are we as teachers talking about very different children? Not many people would advocate teaching the boy in my example in mainstream school. It would be unfair on the child who couldn’t access any lessons, unfair on the class he was joining who need to be taught different things at a faster pace and unfair on the teacher and TA who are untrained to teach him. I wonder if we are muddying the waters a little.
I’ll give you another example. Last night I was at a birthday party for a friend. It was an extremely lively party and everyone was up and dancing to the band. One pretty young twenty something or another girl was dancing in a very animated and vivacious way. She was all over the dance floor, such was her energy. On to the dance floor stepped a young man with Down Syndrome who was looking for a partner. I held my breath for a second to see what would happen. The young girl waltsed over to him, took his hand and gently began dancing with him. He was beaming from ear to ear. The girl who was terrifying all the men was a perfect partner for the boy. She didn’t patronise him, she did a couple of dances and then resumed her wild dancing. She went back time and again to partner him. I was very impressed I can tell you. Now, should this boy be in a special school or should he be in a mainstream school? Not many would think he couldn’t cope in a mainstream school with some support, he could. It wouldn’t be easy for the teacher, but they would do a sterling job I’m sure.
My point is this, it always has been and always will be. Inclusion has to be right for the child, the parents, the class they are joining and the teacher and TA. It has to be right for all these parties or it won’t work.
To my mind the debate should be centring around children with severe behaviour difficulties. These children are hard to reach in my school with our delicate children and equally hard to reach in mainstream schools where they may be disrupting everyone’s education. This is the difficult question that needs answering. I say again, inclusion has to be about the individual child. There is no easy answer.