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Camden New Journal - by ROSE HACKER
Published: 16 August 2007
Children are fighting for an education

IF I write often about what I see as the tragedy of Margaret Thatcher’s abolishing the Greater London Council and Inner London Education Authority, it is because of the damage it caused to London local government.
Education was particularly hard hit.
Recent reports have highlighted failures of policies intended to ensure integration of children with special needs into mainstream education.
When London had more than 1,000 schools, some with highly specialised facilities, the costs and the benefits could be shared right across Greater London. With extensive support systems providing transport, specialised equipment and unique assessments, the whole service was under constant review and benefited from steady improvement.
I was chairman of Langley House in the East End. Serving the whole of London it was the first children’s residential assessment home. We had a full psychiatric team and remedial teachers. We studied children’s home backgrounds and academic, medical and social work teams were able to integrate all their needs – social, physical and mental.
Like so many projects carried out under the banner of integration, mainstreaming of children with special needs has often been a disguise for cuts. Closing special schools to save running costs and selling off their buildings may help local authorities cope with budget deficits or unwillingness to raise council tax, but that rarely leads to educational benefits for the children affected.
One of the worst problems parents of children with moderate to severe special needs face is a shortage of good facilities in their local schools and lack of unified information about facilities elsewhere. Without a London-wide service, boroughs have to decide whether to attempt to educate for special needs in all or some of their schools, what to do with children with severe needs, and if they are prepared to pay, sometimes at great cost, to send children to other boroughs.
In the past the only assessments they needed to make were what degree of need could be met where, which services could be provided within local schools, which might better be supplied by sending a child to a school with specialist provision within the same division (there were four for inner London) and which children would benefit most from London-wide facilities? Today’s postcode lottery didn’t exist.
What parents and education authorities did not have to face was a battle by local councils not to pay extra to send children to specialist units further away.
Now parents of children with special needs may have to appeal to the Special Educational Needs Tribunal, SENDIST, and end up in courtroom-type confrontation pitted against local schools and councils. The process can take up to two years, an enormous length of time in the learning life of a young child. As with so many areas of modern life, those most likely to get the help they and their children need are families who can afford to pay thousands of pounds for specialist assessments, often contradicting local authorities’ evaluations. Tragically, parents feel forced to portray their children as universally disadvantaged in order to get help for just one need.
Yet children with special needs in one area often excel in another.
I was privileged to play a big part in chairing special London schools for the deaf. We made enormous advances in teaching profoundly deaf children to speak naturally by creative use of television. In conjunction with the hospital for nervous diseases we developed many wonderful technological advances with wider application. Today’s technology should be even better, but cost often precludes its use for children at greatest need.
I remember being involved with Holly Court School, Highgate, for slow learners, and Franklin Delano Roosevelt school, Swiss Cottage, for delicate children. Often undernourished and handicapped by severe poverty, they received special meals. There was a purpose-built school in St John’s Wood for the severely handicapped, many confined to wheelchairs with spina-bifida.
I have written before about the importance of drama and music in general. It is even greater in special education.
Yet in most cases both now have to be privately funded.
Being able to research and evaluate across London, we had wonderful research libraries of our broad-ranging projects and could see what worked and how. We could integrate children into special and mainstream schools according to need, not postcode or parental determination.
Our research showed how wrong CP Snow had been in dividing humans between arts and science. We know that artists can be scientists and scientists can be poets, musicians and artists.
Sportsmen and women often have great academic skills and should not be denied the chance to develop them.
Intellectual children may be outstanding at handicrafts.
Yet a recent article in this newspaper listed which local schools were going to specialise in which academic areas.
Not only are children now being streamed and specialised in secondary schools, parents who can afford to are choosing where to live to get them into primary schools that feed into the ‘most desirable’ secondaries.
That means that children are being put on to specialisation tracks from the age of four.
What chance will that allow for integration?

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