THE BLOG

How Inclusive Is School?

19/01/2017 12:19

Do good grades matter more than happiness? Do good grades outweigh happiness? According to a recent BBC report, academic achievement seems to be prioritised over student happiness or social integration. I was sad to see nothing has really changed since my time at school.

Grades are important but the life skills learnt at school should never be disregarded. Exam results get us into university or into a career, but the life skills we learn in and around the classroom are arguably just as important and ultimately what school should provide us with.

I have severe cerebral palsy. This affects my movements and my speech significantly and adults are still fairly cautious interacting with me. School not only taught me how to interact but taught my fellow students how to interact with people like me)

Primary school was great. Children were still naive and untainted by the desperate desire to fit in. Young children are remarkably non-prejudiced. At secondary school, however, it seemed to be too much for them for them to interact with me. I would often go weeks without social interaction. This left me feeling friendless and alone.

Unfortunately, teachers did little to help. They themselves were unsure of how to interact with me. They lacked confidence or maybe knowledge. I can now see that my fellow students picked up on the nerves from our teachers. Classes where teachers were more open-minded were far easier for me. Classes in which the teacher threatened to put students next to me if they didn't stop talking were not a way to progress equality. Pastoral teachers refused to engage with me at school when I was considering my sexuality because they thought Section 28 was still in force.

The debate continues as to where children with challenging behaviour are best suited. However, there seems to be agreement that children who are physically impaired should be mainstreamed. I take no issue with this, however, schools must up their game in terms of doing absolutely all they can to help a child integrate socially.

How can teachers alter group work to be sure the child can be included? How can teachers show that the child's speech impairment is not a big issue? Quite often, disabled children are grouped together for lunch and breaks, mainly for the convenience of the classroom assistants. While there are no problems if disabled children want to hang out with each other, what about those who want to hang out with the new friend they made in English? These issues do not just stop at the school gates- what if a physically impaired student wants to walk to school with their friends when they now travel in a black cab on their own?

It goes without saying, that a child is more likely to flourish academically without the pressures and anxieties of isolation. The BBC report goes on to say special needs is not taught to schoolteachers and this disappointed me but was not altogether surprising. However, I do think this goes back to 'what makes a good teacher' generally. There is very little that I would specifically recommend to student teachers, but I would remind them that the way in which row interact with disabled students will be copied by other students. Students learn far more than just the curriculum from teachers and a nervous teacher will lead on to an isolated pupil

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