Which is best for disabled people, mainstream education or “special” schools?

I went to a mainstream school that had excellent academic standards, so I had access to a wide range of educational tools. There were also a few things that I was prevented from doing on the grounds of “Safety”. But my school seemed to take a somewhat quixotic approach to this: I was prevented from studying Chemistry (in case I had an eplieptic fit in the lab), but was permitted to do fencing as one of my games options. I was prevented from doing swimming, but allowed to throw the javelin – there’s a bit of a pattern here – chemicals bad, pointy objects okay.

Apart from these odd bannings, I am eternally grateful for the standard and range of education I was exposed to. I am certain that if I had gone to a special school (or a lesser mainstream school) at the time, my education, and my life would have been much poorer.
Things have changed now, and with part 4 of the Disability Discrimination Act providing rights to physical access around schools as well as access to the curriculum for disabled pupils, it’s reasonable to think we finally have an educational equality.
In Wolverhampton vast sums of money have quite rightly been spent in making school buildings and facilities accessible. But what of equal access to the curricuum, to the lessons themselves?
That doyen of education, philosopher, and architect of the 1981 Education Act (where statementing comes from) Baroness Warnock, says that the inclusive education system is failing to meet the needs of lots of statemented children – particularly those with autism.
In recent years reports have said that head teachers would prefer some disabled pupils out of mainstream education and back into special schools. And a recent opinion piece by a scottish journalist
has ignited a debate – his main arguement is that mainstream education does not serve visually impaired kids well because it relys too much on visual media for it’s teaching method.

So which is best – well resourced, well led special schools like Pen Hall, or mainstream schools where there is not enough support, where teaching methods are not sufficiently accesible, and where many head teacher may not want you anyway?

I think that any system that attempts to integrate us into the manistream is a good thing. The important point is that it is done properly, so that we really do have equal access to learning. It seems that at the moment this is not happening. The Government needs to address this if the Educational Equality project is not to be a failure.


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