One day, a couple of years ago, I went to the doctor’s surgery to collect a prescription. Freddie would have been about four.
A lady, noticing him, struck up a conversation with me, explaining that she had an eight-month-old grandchild with Down’s Syndrome.
She told me how well the little one was doing; how, now that mum was back at work, they went to an ordinary nursery. She also told me, enthusiastically, about the family’s plans to enrol the child in their local mainstream Primary school. I told her about the nurseries Freddie had attended, one of which was a dedicated special needs nursery. She shot me a stormy look.
‘No, no, no!’ she shouted. ‘I don’t agree with that at all. They should be educated with everybody else!’
Before I could reply the nurse came out and called the lady in for her appointment. Clearly that lady was under the misapprehension that Special school is about segregation.
It’s about appropriate education.
Freddie has a Statement of Special Educational Need.
It states that he requires twenty-five hours of additional one-to-one support a week – out of a school week of approximately thirty hours. That’s a lot. But it’s not the whole day. There would still be at least one hour a day when he would be without additional support. When would that hour be?
When he started school Freddie was still struggling to self-feed, and to chew and swallow some foods.
He needed help and supervision not only to ensure that he ate, but to ensure that he did not choke. He still has no sense of danger and is an enthusiastic absconder. He needs supervision at all times, including play times, to keep him safe.
Freddie wasn’t toilet-trained when he began school, because he wasn’t physically ready to be. He needed someone not only to clean and change him, but to be able to help him learn in a way that he could cope with. It was explained to me that if he went to mainstream school his support would come from either a teaching assistant with no specialist training, or, worse still, one of the mums, who just needed to earn some extra money.
The District SENCO told me, unofficially, that neither of the Primary schools in our catchment area would be satisfactory in meeting his needs, because neither really fully embraced the idea of inclusion. Within (brisk) walking distance of where I live, though, is the local Community Special School.
Here, the staff are very experienced at educating, and caring for, children with a wide variety of physical, intellectual, emotional and behavioural issues and needs.
Here, Freddie would follow a curriculum based on the National Curriculum, but differentiated to meet his needs, to ensure that he could access it effectively.
They also focus on helping the children to develop their self-help, social, emotional and play skills.
They support the children in learning to follow rules and routines.
They have a toileting programme.
There are currently eight children in his class and three staff.
Freddie’s learning needs fall outside the mainstream.
That’s why they are referred to as ‘special’.
And that’s why mainstream school is not appropriate for him.
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