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Counting the cost

April 20th, 2009

About one hundred special schools have been closed in the past ten years. Brighouse School, the fictional setting for Death of a Nightingale, could have been one of them. Contemporary evidence suggests that if it had been, and if its pupils had been relocated in a mainstream school, many would have been bullied and their education would have suffered. Alternatively they would have ended up in another special school not designed to meet their particular needs. How did all this come about?

Some people pursuing the policy of inclusion thought that there were savings to be made. Others thought it was a matter of equality and human rights. Many probably projected what they felt in their gut what they would want for themselves onto everyone else. Also, many of those who pursued a policy of inclusion probably had no idea what a good special school was like and what it offered, and did not even know the range of special needs covered by the term Special Educational Needs.
‘Brighouse School’ caters for children who have physical disabilities and the learning difficulties associated with them. There are very many of these disabilities. They include cerebral palsy, spina bifida with hydrocephalus, cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy, rheumatoid arthritis, heart conditions, osteoagenesis imperfecta, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy and neurological disorders. There are also victims of road traffic and other accidents. This is the world of burns and fractures. There are sub-divisions of each disability.

But there are also many other quite different needs and other special schools cater for them, some with a national reputation. There are children with profound and multiple learning difficulties PMLD, emotional and behavioural difficulties EBD, with hearing problems, speech or sight impairment. There is also dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism. In other words, think of a fruit shop. There are apples, pears, peaches, grapes, bananas and so on. With apples alone, there are coxes, bramleys, and golden delicious et cetera. It’s the same thing with SEN. There are about 400,000 children with learning difficulties of one sort or another.

A head teacher once said to me, and the head teacher in Brighouse School echoes: “The one thing that we can give our kids is time.”