Children of all abilities need to mix and match
THE London County Council was set up in 1903, three years before my birth. It was abolished in 1964, and replaced by the Inner London Education Authority, itself abolished in 1986.
Both were dispatched by Conservative government which couldn’t win elections in London, and both provided cradle-to-grave educational services, pre-school, nursery, primary and secondary schools, polytechnics and adult colleges.
Unrivalled public facilities included urban and rural playing fields, activity centres, respite, holiday homes, farms, youth clubs, theatres, orchestras.
One area in which we excelled was provision for every kind of special-needs education, including day and boarding schools in and outside London.
I chaired five special LCC and ILEA schools.
Progressing from the 1950s networks of special schools for children with specific disabilities, we embraced the concept of integration, bringing children with educational difficulties into regular school environments and preparing all children for the realities of a society where people have differing abilities, capabilities and limitations.
We thought special schools could serve as community resources by offering children from regular schools a day or two of special attention.
Having London-wide co-ordination and schools, we could collect children from each of ILEA’s four divisions. Even resources available only a few hours a week made an enormous difference. Conversely, extra staffing provision to accommodate them enabled ‘special-needs’ children to attend regular schools.
In one special boarding school that I chaired we had not only dedicated, wonderful teachers but a full psychiatric team, psychiatrist, social worker and psychologist.
Studying both child and family background we learned so much.
We discovered that a child abused or neglected and not bonded with a parent or substitute in the earliest days was almost impossible to treat. Eighty two percent of ‘bad boys’ were suffering from severe clinical depression. Yet year after year our successful ex-pupils came to reunions with wives, children and jobs, happy people.
The ideals and objectives of integration require additional resources to work effectively.
ILEA was able to provide them. When ILEA was abolished, the London-wide approach was doomed. Integration soon meant cuts.
Extra resources evaporated. Where are the extra staff and facilities now?
An ancient African proverb says: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual. If you educate a woman you educate a nation.” We worked hard to educate everyone.
Mildred Masheder, an educationalist at the North-Western Polytechnic (now London Metropolitan University) wrote books on education, focusing on bullying and co-operation.
They are full of hints and tips for young people’s games, requiring more than one person to succeed, such as ‘The Big Parachute’. It only works with several people to manipulate it.
She currently provides teaching packs for children, parents and teachers, comprising books and videos, suitable for special-needs and all young children, promoting co-operation and preventing bullying. We found that what works in special education applies to all children and all good teachers know this.
Mary Stapleton another educator invented the ‘School Without Walls’. The school bought a bus and furnished one floor with tables and chairs like a classroom, the other was travelling space.
Using the resources of the city instead of the classroom, children visited libraries, museums, parks, historic buildings etc., all resulting in educational projects. At the same time children learned citizenship and human relationships.
Now, to pay for glamorous new school buildings and armies of clipboard-wielding, target-obsessed bureaucrats, we are sacking well-trained teachers and carers and replacing them with technicians, automata ticking boxes to make the figures look better.
Fragmentation, funding cuts, and loss of co-ordination harm London’s ability to cater to all its children’s needs.
When recent education Minister, Ruth Kelly, decided to send her special-needs child to a private school, many feared this reflected the reality that, under New Labour, a two-year battle for a statement of educational needs and London’s special-needs provision are not good enough for government ministers’ children.
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