Yesterday I read an article about how some children are being refused places at schools purely because of their disability, even when the school in question is viewed as the best one for them. I don’t understand how anyone could do that to a child, I can understand when a school literally has no way of providing for a child but to refuse when it’s the ideal one for them, it seems so wrong. But then I started to think about what schools get out of having children with disabilities attending them, unfortunately my list wasn’t overly promising.
• The “we are a lovely caring place” factor, caused by being seen as hugely charitable for giving a child with a disability an education. Maybe I’m being cynical, but I speak from experience when I say people don’t expect someone with a disability, even something like mine, to attend a “normal” school. When I was in primary school I was in a class assembly, or play, something like that. My mum came to watch me and another parent turned round to her and said “she’s very lucky to be at a normal school.” Was I lucky; was it a privilege for me to have an equal education? I wonder if that woman would have felt differently if it was her child with the disability, would she have thought me lucky then. It bothers me that there are people in society that assume children with disabilities won’t, or shouldn’t, attend mainstream school. Why not if it works for them, I thought we were meant to be progressive. Does this make any school that takes me suddenly better and nicer than others? It really shouldn’t, but I get the feeling people think it does.
• Money. I really don’t think this can be considered a reason why schools take people like me. Yes, they get a certain amount of money per student, and probably extra for kids that are statemented, but it probably doesn’t cover what they have to spend. It all depends on the needs of the particular child. Do they need a teaching assistant, assistive technology, staff that are specifically trained to perform certain tasks, medical assistance? And of course who is paying for it, does it fall to the LEA or the school. I think in some situations schools will “make” money, but in most they don’t. This makes me think that maybe it’s a reason for schools to refuse kids a place.
• Diversity. Apparently in today’s society we love being fair to everyone, we enjoy making people of different ethnicities, social classes and of course those with disabilities equal. Is this why some schools take us, or are they expected to? Who knows, I think it really depends on the school. I genuinely believe some schools care about such things, but equally others are pressured into taking certain children.
Why then have I been so and I quote “lucky”. Have I really been lucky? It makes me sad to think that I might have been especially when you consider the fact that my experiences at school haven’t always been wonderful, what must it be like for the kids that lose out completely? For students with disabilities, like everyone else, it’s a bit of a postcode lottery, except it’s more of an LEA lottery. Do you have a local council that likes inclusion? Do they like it too much and are therefore unwilling to put any kids in specialist education. That’s the other side of it; you have to ensure that kids that need access to special schools get it too. If you have an LEA like mine, that wanted me to go to mainstream but understood when it wasn’t appropriate, and then when I was ready for mainstream school made arrangements so I would be provided for, it’s great. But if you don’t you can get left behind in the education system with nowhere to go.
If I had to choose one of the reasons why my school takes students with disabilities I would say that it is because they want us to be included. I don’t think they have economic motives, or even that they want to look like a nice place because they pitied us enough to give us an education. If that was the case I doubt they’d have bothered doing half the things they have to make my experience there a good one. That’s not to say they can’t do more, I wasn’t at the school when I was younger so I don’t know what access to sport is like for kids with disabilities. Are they encouraged, or just put in the bottom group because it’s easier? What about art and textiles, would I have even been allowed to study them? These are all questions I want answering, and I’m not just talking about my school here because I suspect they would have put effort in at least to try and give me the same opportunities as everyone else. We’ve had assemblies on difference, why students with disabilities should be treated the same as other people. My teachers ask me questions, they try to understand, and the school do what they can to help me. They encourage students with disabilities to work hard and get a good education, if my school will do it, why don’t others? Why are people allowing schools to just not bother with students who could do really well given the right support? Is it because of lack of education? Do teachers themselves actually know anything about disabilities? What training are they given, or do they just have a quick meeting when a child starts the school.
And what can I do? Can I change the views of society, how they treat people like me? I’m old enough to fight for myself, but there are really young children and their parents who aren’t used to the system. Yes, they get support, but usually from the local council, and especially with the economic climate you can’t say that they’re going to be neutral, after all they’re more often than not the ones paying for the Childs schooling. I can’t exactly force schools to give teachers training on disabilities, even a school like mine that is really open to discussing things like that. Is it my place to want to get involved? I can’t help thinking it is, because who else is going to speak out?