Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging
Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

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Exploring learning disabilities: supporting belonging

2.2 Working in a special school

In Video 3 you listened to people discussing their experience of being a student at a special school. But what is it like to work in a special school? What are the benefits and what are the challenges?

Activity 5 The benefits of special schools

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Listen to Clare Savory, Head of Science at Parkside School in Norwich, talking about why she thinks there is still a need for special schools. As you listen, make a note of some of the positive aspects of teaching in a special school that Clare reports.

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Transcript: Audio 1

Parkside School is basically, it's a complex needs school for children from the ages of 7 to 8 all the way up to 18. We have currently enrolled, we have 166 students on roll at the moment. And they have a whole range of different needs. So we have some students with autism. We have children with global developmental delay. We have children with Down syndrome. We have some children with fragile chromosome syndromes as well. So a real mixture of different students that we have.
They tend to come here after being in a mainstream setting. So we have two different intakes. We have students that come in from year 3. And we have students that come in from year 7. And occasionally, if we go to panel with it, we'll have students that are coming in year 9 and 10 as well.
So they tend to come to us as a result of the fact that they have not coped well in the mainstream environment. Maybe they've had just a one-to-one teaching assistant and they've been kind of segregated from the rest of the class, or their behaviour has not been manageable within a class setting of 30-plus students. And they tend to come to us with quite low sort of confidence. Often they've been excluded or they've been on a managed move. And they tend to stay with us all the way up through to 16, and some of them up to 18. So yeah, lots and lots of different types of student.
It's my personal opinion that in mainstream they've basically been bottom of the rung. Through the entire time that they've been there, they have been segregated. Often children with really high behavioural needs will be one-to-one with a TA in a mainstream school. And here, you see them start to open up and feel capable and feel like they can do things independently.
And we've had some real amazing stories. We had a young man who now he's got his driving licence. He's actually working as a teaching assistant in a neighbouring school. And I don't think that would have happened for him if he'd have been-- I think he would have been swallowed up in the mainstream environment. Whereas here, we can kind of nurture those skills and their interests as well.
We can base lessons around specific interests, because we can create bespoke curricula that are fully encompassing of the things that our students need. And as a result of that, I think we get huge progressmade actually. And confidence, you see their efficacy sort of rise as they go through the school. We can see them starting to realise, oh, no, I can do this. I am good at this. And that's a really wonderful feeling.
End transcript: Audio 1
Audio 1
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Some of the positives you might have noted from Clare’s account were:

  • the children often arrive at Parkside after difficult experiences in a mainstream school. The special school offers opportunities for students to be less segregated in Clare’s view.

  • the school can nurture students’ skills and interests.

  • the school can also provide support and education that is more tailored to the individual. This can help students’ confidence to grow.

Despite calls for a fully inclusive education system, Clare has shown that there can be significant benefits for some students who attend a special school. However, in the next section you will explore some of the benefits and challenges of delivering inclusive education.


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