Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

SEN Provision Changes Lives - Including Mine: Comment

Magazine article Times Educational Supplement

SEN Provision Changes Lives - Including Mine: Comment

Article excerpt

The announcement of new special educational needs (SEN) legislation in the Queen's Speech earlier this summer had a particular resonance for me. The last time SEN provision underwent such major change was in 1978 when Baroness Warnock's review recommended that SEN pupils be integrated into mainstream schools.

At that time, I was an eight-year-old in a residential special school in Devon. I had been there since the age of 4. I was born with spastic diplegia - a form of cerebral palsy. My severe disability made it hard for my parents to cope with me at home at a time when support was scant.

Unlike today, the system wasn't set up to educate children like me. There was no significant academic schooling - the focus was on developing physical ability. Then along came Warnock. I was part of the pilot for the scheme to integrate SEN children into mainstream schools and, at the age of 9 in 1979, my dad and I visited Fairlands Middle School in Cheddar. Fortunately, the enlightened headteacher, the late Harry Broome, was prepared to take me on as a pupil.

The visit didn't go well at first. I was asked to complete a simple test of putting a piece of wood in a vice, but because of my physical disability I struggled to stand at the workbench and couldn't do it.

I thought I had blown it and was worried that the school wouldn't take me. But I insisted on going back into the woodwork room and, wedging myself into a gap between a bench and a wall, managed to get the stability I needed to manipulate the wood into the vice. I got into the school because I found a creative solution to a problem.

When I started teacher training at the age of 36 after a career in commercial training, some of the issues surrounding the Warnock revolution that I had been a small part of really started to hit me.

In one tutorial a discussion started about the difficulties trainees were having with students with additional support needs. One said that, in her view, the time taken to work with these students meant that the majority of the class had to suffer. Twenty years before, I had been at the receiving end of such views from a teacher who didn't want me in his class.

For me, this points to a broader issue about how SEN - and non-SEN - children and young people learn. As well as ensuring that the right support is there for the right people, policymakers should also focus on giving children and young people of all abilities the tools to become more independent learners.

That was something I didn't get in my school career. I wasn't a traditional academic and I struggled to learn at the same pace as my classmates. …

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