I've also got a uni deadline creeping up, Tuesday actually. This is more of an informal style piece outlining two contrasting opinions on inclusion. It's about a disabled swimmer who wants to join the swimming competition team but has been advised he should join the team for disabled swimmers. It has started me thinking about inclusion as a broad topic and has also reminded me that Hannah and I have Colley and Imray's book Inclusion is Dead: Long Live Inclusion still waiting to be read!
Our school was recently split up into needs based classes. Hannah and I had up until that point taught mixed ability classes and in all honesty found it really difficult to effectively teach the broad needs in the class. Some needed highly sensory and stimulating environments, others needed low arousal and very structured style of teaching, some had behavioural needs which often took your attention away from the children with PMLD and many more issues. It was a challenge. Hannah now has a class of mixed age children with PMLD all of whom have physical disabilities and many have complex medical needs. I teach the secondary complex needs class. Many of my pupils have autism as well as severe learning difficulties, ADHD and some with physical disabilities. They are a complicated but fabulous bunch. Our new head of school has previously led in our sister school with children of similar needs and abilities but in mixed classes. His vision is to ensure that pupils in the school are more integrated. It was received with a look of fear but in fact I think he has a point. Due to some incidents from a couple of the children with behavioural needs which questioned the safety element of mixing a couple of years ago, both groups of children have been kept apart. We haven't even had a sports day for a number of years.
The first introduction in the first week back was a whole school tuck shop. The senior pupils cook items for the tuck shop and develop their preparation for work skills by running it which is great and the rest of the school comes along and mixes with each other. I really think this is a good way forward, not mixing the classes to still ensure pupils get their learning, health, physical, communication needs met in the best possible environment but we need to plan for opportunities for our pupils to mix.
It got me thinking about the mainstream vs special school debate. I can go back through history to the closure of many special schools, the Warnock report etc but I won't bore you too much, worth a read if you're interested. For my university course I have to conduct an interview with someone who has contrasting opinions and experiences to me in regard to inclusion. In my opinion and through my experiences a special school is a fantastic environment for pupils with SLD and PMLD to thrive so I wanted to speak to a parent of a child with SLD or PMLD who is educated in a mainstream school. I sent out a search on twitter and have spoken to various other professionals but haven't managed to find any. Are children with PMLD simply not educated in mainstream schools? Does this mean they never see pupils from mainstream schools? In all honesty, our pupils don't. They meet members of the community out and about but not young people their own age.
By the way...if you do have a child with SLD/ PMLD who is educated in mainstream PLEASE get in touch with me!
Inclusion is a tricky one, participation is another. For inclusion to be effective you want the children to be active participants. If they are just being 'wheeled around' or 'parked' in an environment with other mainstream peers is that being inclusive?
We struggle with inclusive attitudes sometimes within our community. I take a group of my young people into the community every day to develop road awareness, to increase their tolerance of sensory stimulating environments, to develop basic life skills and much more. But importantly for the community to see them, I will not hide my children away, I want them to leave school and be able to positively integrate with the rest of society without prejudice. However, sadly I have had some issues as recently as last week. We used to take our pupils to church for Harvest Festival, Easter and Christmas (sadly this stopped but will hopefully start up again), the church community tried their best to provide a sensory and stimulating church service (sometimes didn't quite manage it but they tried really hard) then they provided food and drinks for us in their church hall which was lovely. We took a small group of our children to their coffee morning last week. One of my older pupils with complex ASD and ADHD was very excited, loudly vocalising his pleasure, bouncing up and down, making his physical gestures to demonstrate happiness. He was supported by two adults. The church phoned and made a complaint that this child was scaring their other customers. I was so saddened by this. They welcome children from school with open arms during a service especially for them but they're not so welcome during normal hours. How sad that a community group that knows our children still can't accept them for who they are. We have had other issues with the soft play centre. I know our children are older than their age limit but developmentally they are much much younger. I explained the benefits and they allowed us to go along. In the end they suggested we had a separate session. They open especially for us every week which is great and my class get so much from going it's just sad they haven't managed to integrate us with others.
We need more acceptance of our children for who they are, I won't stop taking them out into the community and I will try to make links with other mainstream children. As my children are secondary ages I can perceive having more difficulty with this but I will try. I look to Parallel London, an event designed to accept and celebrate everyone standing side by side whether able bodied or not everyone was an equal. Let's all try our best to proudly encourage our children to become active members of society alongside everyone else and encourage more events, initiatives, groups, facilities that celebrate everyone as an equal as much as Parallel do. You can find our blog post on Parallel London here.
Lincolnshire is slow on the uptake but I know around the country there are many wonderful facilities and events for people with disabilities and learning difficulties. Another local soft play centre and the swimming pool have disability and special needs sessions. This is definitely step 1, they are recognising that our children may perceive the world differently and need different things to support them such as low level music or lighting or physical things such as hoists and changing facilities (again Lincolnshire slow on the uptake) but isn't that still segregation in a way? How many years into the future do you think it will be when people with additional needs and disabilities are considered and planned for by everyone so there doesn't have to be special events or last minute considerations, parents and teachers don't have to spend time worrying and extensively planning ways to get around problems. When will our special young people be automatically viewed as equal members of society with equal opportunities and all barriers to their inclusion and access to society removed. I'm not sure it's been fully thought through. Any film or TV show you watch that's set in the future with robots and aliens...where are our special young people and adults? Our children are getting more complex, there is an increase in young people with PMLD. I hope the future generations and our future universe are planning for this!
And to everyone who is out there fighting for inclusion and campaigning for changing spaces and much more...keep up the amazing work! To everyone who is standing up for the rights of their children to be included...keep us the amazing work! To everyone who has joined the Raising the Bar Facebook group and is backing the movement for improved care standards for our children, young people and adults with PMLD...keep up the amazing work! There is so much good out there already and I'm sure 2018 will be a year of progress.
Anyway, I've done enough distracting myself from my assignment, I'd better get back to it. Any thoughts on what I've written do message us on twitter or Facebook.
I will leave you with my resolutions for the year
- To become a better teacher, I think this will be a resolution for the rest of my life as special needs practices continue to evolve
- To develop my knowledge of sensory rooms and support staff in my school to effectively use our new room
- To speak to and meet more fantastic parents and practitioners to share with and learn from.
- To develop more links with the community and provide my children with more opportunities
- To be present in the moment when I'm with my children. Put work deadlines and other stresses to the back of my mind and be solely with the children.
- To be more organised! Although my TAs do a good job of organising me
- It should probably be to have more of a work life balance but I'm not sure that's an achievable one!