Disaster of 'Inclusive' Special Needs Teaching, by the Woman Behind It; after Three Decades, Baroness Warnock Finally Admits That the Push to Educate All Children Together Wasn't Such a Bright Idea after All

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THE woman behind the drive to educate children with special needs in mainstream schools admitted yesterday it had been a disaster.

In an extraordinary climbdown, Baroness Warnock said she believed the system was failing thousands of vulnerable youngsters.

The 81-year- old academic said the inclusive approach had been a 'bright idea in the 1970s' but admitted it 'really isn't working'.

The policy had resulted in a 'disastrous legacy' of forced removal of youngsters from special schools, she said.

The pressure to push them into mainstream education had created 'confusion of which children are the casualties'.

Lady Warnock said the present system, in which students are assessed with a 'statement' of their needs, 'must be abolished'.

Her change of heart comes nearly 30 years after her landmark inquiry into special needs education spawned the current system.

Lady Warnock is a pillar of the liberal education establishment whose 1978 report declared that children with special educational needs must be taught with their peers wherever possible.

Her recommendations formed the basis of the 1981 Education Act which gave schools new responsibilities for accommodating such pupils.

It also introduced the terminology of 'special needs' which referred to the education the pupils required rather than identifying their actual problem.

This resulted in the system of giving pupils formal statements of special educational needs which set out the extra help and funding they require.

According to the 1981 Act, those with special educational needs have 'a learning difficulty, which may be the result of a physical or sensory disability, an emotional or behavioural problem, or developmental delay'.

It also takes in those 'having a disability which prevents or hinders them from making use of educational facilities'.

After coming to power in 1997, Labour speeded up the integration of special needs pupils with the closure of nearly 100 special schools.

It introduced rules four years ago which further cemented the rights of children with special needs to attend mainstream lessons.

Few issues in education are more emotive or controversial.

Parents who want a mainstream education for their children with special needs believe it will give them more chance of success in adult life.

Others, however, have bitterly resisted the closure of special schools, believing their children benefit from the specialist care they offer.

Teachers have complained the inclusion policy has resulted in disturbed youngsters wrecking lessons for thousands of pupils in mainstream schools.

Ofsted last year reported disruption in most schools across the country.

Lady Warnock, also an influential authority on medical ethics, has called for a fundamental rethink of special needs education.

'I think it has gone too far. It was a sort of bright idea in the 1970s but by now it's become a kind of mantra,' she told the BBC.

'But really it isn't working.' Lady Warnock explained her about-turn in a pamphlet to be published later this month.

'Governments must come to recognise that, even if inclusion is an ideal for society in general, it may not always be an ideal for school,' she wrote for the Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain.

She said the approach 'springs from hearts in the right place' but said its implementation and the shifting of pupils out of special schools was a 'disastrous legacy'.

She called for an independent committee to conduct a 'radical review' of the current system and suggested strengthening the role of special schools.

Their remit should be extended to deal with a wider range of needs - including those who are socially deprived as well as physically disabled.

She reserved further criticism for the system of providing children with statements of special needs. …