Earlier this month I returned to my old high school, Putteridge High in Luton, to record some interviews with staff and students for BBC radio. The program is examining the subject of Special Education Needs provision, which is of particular interest at the minute as new rules on SEN come into force before the new school year. As I am childless I won't begin to claim to fully understand what they actually are, even after spending a day with the staff at PHS and being in the studio as the host of the show, Shrink Wrap on BBC3CR, chatted with "experts" on the subject. Everyone uses so much jargon that after a while my head began to spin. To be honest recording my segments for the show gave me a huge respect for the parents of disabled children, as trying to ensure they get the best education possible really is a minefield.
It left me with an even greater respect for my parents. When it became time to send me to school my mum and dad decided that although I was disabled they wanted me to go to a mainstream school, as my impairment was such that it had no impact on my ability to learn,. In fact back then the only difference between me and any other kid was I limped, and wore a leg brace on my right leg. However all the schools in my local area said NO, and insisted I should go to the town's special school. My parents were adamant that this would not happen and after searching every school in Luton, they found one where the head teacher would give me a chance. So even though I was only accepted on a two month trail, they up rooted their family from the quite cul-de-sac we lived in to another part of town. Luckily it transpired that I was, in the words of the school head, "less trouble than the other children" and thus I began a school career as the only disabled kid at school.
I am sure that thanks to having the chance to experience school with non-disabled kids I learned that being disabled is not big deal. My classmates were sick more often that me, moaned about everything more than me (which is was no mean feat) and a lot of them were as bad at sport as I was. I know that many parents worry about their children being bullied if they enter the mainstream, but everyone gets bullied. I did, but so did all of my mates. The great thing about being me was that I got picked on for something so obvious it didn't really hurt. Being called the crippled kid when you ARE the crippled kid does not really cut you to the bone. In fact it taught me that if you want to be a real bully you either need to find their weak spot, which led me to developing an acid tongue of epic proportions, or you kick kids where it hurts, which apparently is no longer allowed at school but was fine in my day. My "boot of pain" technique developed as a method of fighting with bullies, and trust me no one bullies you if they are worried about their crown jewels! I must also point out that I now know lots of disabled people who went to special schools and they got bullied too. Don't forget disabled kids are still kids, and so they will pick on each other too.
After spending a day at Putteridge High School meeting the students and the committed staff members, I am sure that the Inclusive approach to education really works. Putteridge does have two special needs groups, made up of children of all abilities and impairments, but the goal is for those students to enter the mainstream classes eventually. For kids like I was, with an impairment that does not impact on their ability to learn in any way, there are no barriers to attending the school in the mainstream from their first day. All of the kids, no matter what their abilities mix together during the day and the school promotes the concept of students playing a key role in supporting each other, disabled or not. To me this is how all schools should be. It is about time we saw creating a fully inclusive education system not as something too difficult or too expensive to be possible but instead as an essential was forward if we want a society were disability and difference are seen as a boon and positive. An inclusive society begins with an inclusive education system.
To listen to this edition of Shrink Wrap tune in to BBC3CR on 95.5FM/103.8FM or via i-Player