Saturday, 26 March 2011

Inclusion as a possible factor in the increasing numbers of home educated children in Britain

We saw yesterday that quite a few children with special educational needs in this country are educated at home. According to some research, they could account for as many as a third of home educated children. If so, this might suggest that something like thirty thousand children with special needs are at home, rather than being taught at school. Christine, who knows a good deal about this subject, said that the largest group are those on the autistic spectrum and this seems to tie in with anecdotal evidence from various sources.

A common reason for deregistering ASD children from school is that the experience of school is too distressing for them. Classrooms can be noisy and chaotic places and trying to connect with dozens of new and unknown people can be pretty awful for a child with autism. I am wondering whether this has anything to do with the trend for 'inclusion' in education. The idea behind inclusion is sound; nobody wishes to see a return to the schools for the blind such as the one which David Blunkett attended as a child. There is after all no reason why with suitable adaptations, a classroom cannot be made accessible to a child in a wheelchair. I am sure that we are all in favour of this. The case with autism though strikes me as a little different. Inclusion for these children typically means the local primary school, with the kid just joining the same class as everybody else, with perhaps a little support from a teaching assistant. Many sensitive children who are not on the autistic spectrum find the experience of nursery and school overwhelming; Lord knows what it must seem like to a child who is already hyper-sensitive to his environment.

I have been wondering whether this trend to stick ASD kids in ordinary classrooms like this, a trend which accelerated about fifteen or twenty years ago, has not caused many such children to find the whole business of school simply unendurable. In other words, if they were to have been placed in quiet classes with far fewer members and staff trained in the particular difficulties of autism, would they have adapted to school better and their parents have been less likely to remove them from school entirely? If so, then the policy of inclusion could in a sense be said to have fuelled the rise in home education over the last few years. I am aware that many parents who have removed their children due to problems like this say that it was the best move that they ever made, but I am curious to know whether or not their children might have thrived and accepted school if the nature of the whole thing were a little different. It is an odd coincidence that the numbers of children being educated at home should have soared at precisely the same time that many local authorities were instituting rigorous programmes of 'inclusion' in their schools.

13 comments:

  1. I maintain that the problem is not one of 'inclusion' per se. The problem is one of the education system per se.

    Inclusion of children with autistic traits was quite feasible in 1978 in a system where LAs, schools and teachers had complete adaptability concerning the way children were taught and what they were taught. It's far more difficult to include them when there is huge pressure on schools and teachers to meet externally imposed attainment targets for children in the middle ability range. How do you prioritise your resources; getting 90% of your Y6s above level 4 or supporting challenging children?

    I think it's significant that each of my children has attended a school with very well-worked out and successful inclusion strategies - and in both schools the head teacher has had to take early retirement on health grounds and neither school has had particularly good Ofsted reports.

    The school they both moved to that has had sparkly, shiny Ofsted reports shed SEN children like water off a duck's back.

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  2. When my eldest went to the village primary school that I mentioned yesterday, it was before league tables, literacy hour and the like. There was a great deal of freedom for the teaching staff, so when my son ran out of primary school maths, they merely borrowed the next couple of years work from the local secondary school, and if he had spare time in other subjects he spent half a term on a project - I can remember several of these which were wonderfully creative and fun. My second son (the deaf one) attended the same school with a statement and full time LSA support and also was very happy.

    Move on a few years and the pressure became to help the children who were slightly below the required SATS standards -so helping those who could achive level 4 at year 6 with more input. There wasn't time to worry about the bright ones (at level 6/7) - indeed the instructions from the LA were no longer to enter children for higher levels SATs papers - the county stopped paying. Likewise although they had to carry out the statutory obligations of statements, those who didn't have them (but who still had significant SEN) were largely overlooked.

    So as the poster above says - it is more about how many schools now run, with constantly changing external pressures, rather than just inclusion policies.

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  3. "but I am curious to know whether or not their children might have thrived and accepted school if the nature of the whole thing were a little different"

    If it wasn't for my daughter's experiences we may not have chosen to home ed, but I still doubt she would have achieved so much both academically or personally in any school. What helped her was personal 1:1 tuition from someone who was emotionally invested in the outcome. In our family (since we have lots of children) home ed also allowed us to concentrate solely on her for 6 hours a day when the others weren't around; if she had been at school then most of the family interactions with her would have been concentrated in the few rushed after school hours when she was tired and when tempers are frayed. Once home ed was in place, it was simple to find quite and relaxing things for her to do which didn't need adult interaction, while I got on with meeting the others needs.

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  4. "I have been wondering whether this trend to stick ASD kids in ordinary classrooms like this, a trend which accelerated about fifteen or twenty years ago, has not caused many such children to find the whole business of school simply unendurable."

    There is research to back this up. From "New Perspectives in Special Education - a six-country study of integration Edited by Cor J.W. Meijer et al:

    "Progress [in England] towards classroom integration has been more evident for some groups than for others. Pupils with physical or visual impairments have benefited most from the integration movement; pupils with moderate or severe learning difficulties have benefited considerably less; and pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties are in fact experiencing greater segregation than before."

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  5. My son, with a diagnosis of an ASD, is classified as having a 'behavioural' difficulty. In fact his main problems are with visual and auditory processing and with motor co-ordination - none of which we have been able to get properly assessed, never mind properly supported.

    Often inclusion is seen in purely social terms, not in terms of the child's actual disability.

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  6. "Likewise although they had to carry out the statutory obligations of statements, those who didn't have them (but who still had significant SEN) were largely overlooked."

    A statement of SEN does not guarantee that the child receives the support that they desperately require. As long as the system remains resource led and not needs led, the statement is quite often not worth the paper it is written on.

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  7. "A statement of SEN does not guarantee ..."

    Perhaps we were lucky, but both of mine with statements have always had all their needs fully met in school. However it is because I suppose they have what used to be categorised as "low incidience" needs - both have physical disabilities (very visible) and one also has severe learning difficulties. It is children with more MLD and ASD issues that seem to suffer most.

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  8. "It is children with more MLD and ASD issues that seem to suffer most."

    I would also include children with less common difficulties such as APD, whereupon little knowledge/understanding of this disorder leads to an extremely substandard level of support.

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  9. you have more than one child with disabilties Julie?

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  10. Yes, three- but we adopted 2 of them knowing of their disabilities, so that is why.

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  11. Suzyg said...I think it's significant that each of my children has attended a school with very well-worked out and successful inclusion strategies - and in both schools the head teacher has had to take early retirement on health grounds and neither school has had particularly good Ofsted reports.

    I couldnt agree more - ds was excluded from two 'good Ofsted' primary schools. It was the two primary schools, and the secondary school that have really met his needs.
    From evidence of my own family, from online forums, and from friends with ASD kids inclusive education is generally a failure rather than a success but this does depend on the school. Ds school is fab as were the schools of a couple friends kids, whereas both dds had terrible trouble getting their needs met and most people have little good to say.

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  12. Argh, really need an edit button!!! It should read: "It was the two primary schools, and the secondary school with poor ofsted that really met his needs."

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