Should Special Schools Be Shut Down? (Includes Poll)

Should all special schools – schools that specifically and exclusively cater to children with special needs – be shut down? My personal experiences, and a look at the reality of what the two types of schooling have to offer, once made me feel very strongly that these schools are an important, essential and indeed wonderful part of our schooling system. Those experiences and those realities have not changed for me – I am still extremely grateful and very pleased with what my son received through the special school he attended for two years, and I still observe much better training, skills, ratios and services available through special schools than through mainstream schools. However there are other relevant and important factors to consider that I once overlooked, and because of those other considerations I now find myself genuinely torn in my views.

Yes, the current reality is that mainstream teachers are not adequately trained or properly resourced to cope well with many of our special children – there are clearly some fantastic mainstream teachers who go this extra mile, but from what I hear they are the minority and they can face burn-out while they struggle to meet the challenges. But acknowledging this reality doesn’t mean it’s how things should be or should stay. If teachers aren’t adequately trained or resourced, then isn’t that a reason to make them so, rather than a reason to hold on to the status quo? Indeed it can be – and often is – argued that the continued existence of special schools allows mainstream schools and teachers to justify remaining woefully unprepared for the full diversity of children. Surely when you spot a serious deficit in the way things are being run, the immediate response should be to fix it, rather than to leave it as it is as if it’s inherently perfect? An education system must evolve as new challenges and new research come along – education should be, by its very nature, responsive and ever-improving.

I’ll get to the relevant research soon, first I just want to also address another point about the reality of the current education system. The reality that gets thrown in parents faces whenever they assert their right (both legally and morally) to have their disabled children attend their local school. That reality is the current dominant attitude within our society that children with special needs don’t belong in mainstream schools – that they belong in special schools (just read some of the horribly righteous responses at the bottom of this recent opinion piece). Putting aside for the moment that not all disabled children qualify for entry into special schools (so that the “option” is not really an option at all), the very existence of special schools appears to support these exclusionary views: “Your kid can go to school, just not a mainstream one, go put them where they belong.” Even though the child, the parents, and educational professionals may all be of the view that the mainstream classroom is the best option for the disabled child, the fact that they have a choice to attend a special school is frequently used as part of the argument for why they shouldn’t be mainstreamed.

On what basis might parents and professionals think mainstreaming is the better option – is it a view actually supported by research or is it just an ideological view about inclusiveness without reference to reality? I read through whatever studies and meta-studies and reviews and governmental papers I could source on the issue, and the answer here is pretty clear: Mainstreaming is either better or as good as special schools, even when those special schools offer specialized services and have better teacher ratios.

I found that a bit counter-intuitive, so I read deeper, and found that there are of course a few studies that found negative outcomes, in particular when it came to the most severely disabled children, issues around bullying, and preparing children for the real world. To elaborate a little: Parents of more severely disabled children in particular, have been found to prefer separate schools, bullying and isolation may be more likely to occur in some mainstream schools, and special schools tend to focus more on life skills (rather than purely academic skills) which can be of more benefit to disabled teens as they enter adult-hood. But those findings were not representative of the majority of studies which found social, academic and many other important benefits of mainstreaming. The weight of evidence clearly does come down in favour of mainstreaming between the two options.

Where studies found no significant difference in experience or outcomes between the two options, it is fair to say this argues in favour of integration, considering principled arguments against needless segregation of peoples and in light of the benefits that can flow to non-disabled children who are in integrated classrooms. Studies have found that those other non-disabled students’ learning is not negatively impacted by the presence of the disabled children, and indeed that there can be positive outcomes for all learners in an inclusive classroom. Win-win… right?

But wait a minute, isn’t it a bit simplistic to talk of special schools versus mainstream schools – aren’t the quality of teachers and the programs being used with the children more important? This is a point that is picked up in research too, and yes those things matter, of course they do. But quality of teachers and programs is not automatically better just because it’s a special school – I think that is a point worth emphasizing here. Just because you have more teachers in a room – for example – doesn’t mean your child is getting a higher quality education.

My own experience with my own child was that the special school did have better training, better resourcing, more and better services. When my son was at his most severe, these were exactly what he needed, and he benefited hugely. However as he became less severely impacted by his autism, the special school wasn’t able to meet some of his new needs and was starting to have a somewhat detrimental impact on his behaviours in some ways because of poor modelling (and lack of modelling).

By the way, at this point I would like to address the argument I hear far too often: that special schools don’t encourage their students to be mainstreamed because they are trying to hold on to funding and numbers. I call hogwash on that. These schools are well-funded and they know it (and are grateful for it), a few students here or there are not going to ruin them. Furthermore – again, as I understand it – they have no shortage of families who would like to be able to send their kids to the special school but who unfortunately don’t qualify to attend. I know my son’s old special school would sometimes extend its existing funding to take on those children where they felt the child would benefit from what they have to offer. Indeed, it was my son’s special school teacher who told me that she believed he was ready for mainstreaming, having discussed the matter first with the principal who believed it was now in my son’s best interests too. Is that the behaviour of an institution that is more interested in its continued existence than what is in the best interests of each child? Hardly – it’s the exact opposite.

This, and pretty much every single other experience with my son’s special school, had utterly convinced me of the huge benefit of the continued existence of such schools. They are places full of people who actively want to work with our high needs kids, people who genuinely care about our children as individuals, closely tracking their development and trying to cater to their entire well-being – physical, mental, academic. Every person I interacted with at that school – from the principal to the head teacher to the aides to the therapists – were passionate people who I trusted with my son, and that trust was well-placed. But that was my single experience, at a single school; however wonderful it was, I recognise that there are others who did not like the school, and there are – without doubt – other special schools which will not be serving their students as well as that school served my own son. I am so grateful I had the option to send my son to the exact place he needed to be, and I have never regretted that schooling decision, as a general rule I believe having such choices is itself in the best interest of our kids and our families. But that brings me back to where I started: Mainstream schools are evidently – on the whole – better for our kids, and the public uses the existence of special schools to argue against our inclusion.

So, you see, I am a bit torn. And it turns out the New Zealand education sector is all a bit confused here too – at once pushing for full inclusion, but not pushing for the closure of special schools, where some see the continued of special schools as the opposite of inclusion. Some argue the very existence of special schools is itself a form of unjustified discrimination, and point out that these schools come from a history of institutionalism and segregation (for example, see pages 2 and 3 of this leaflet (pdf) distributed by the local charity IEAG). But the modern special school here uses out-reach services, and shares their expertise in mainstream schools, and creates satellite units in mainstream schools – I find it so hard to reconcile the attacks on the existence of special schools with the actual practices and people involved in modern special schools.

I want to hear what you think – indeed, what you want. Do you think special schools should always exist, will always exist? Should they be shut down, reduced, increased in number? Let me know in the poll, and in the comments, and feel free to try to persuade me to your own views – this is an interesting topic that I am very open to and would love to hear more about.

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A few helpful links about the research in this area:

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43 Responses to Should Special Schools Be Shut Down? (Includes Poll)

  1. tansy says:

    Wow, what a well written, succinctly explained piece! It is a very interesting issue and i agree with you, i can see the benefit of mainstreaming but don’t believe we should take away the choice of parents. And the scary reality is that we cant close all the special schools until every single mainstream school is truly welcoming of special needs students, which currently is very hit and miss. And also the funding if special needs would need to be increased in schools if they were to incorporate all SN students.
    Our personal experwas of our local, zoned school showing very clearly that we were not welcome. I emailed the principal about our son with autism, and who had just been granted ORS and asked to meet with her to discuss the school etc and she blatantly choose not to reply to me at any stage. Clearly despite us legally being able to attend her school, she did not want us.
    Our son has just spent his first term mainstreamed at a Montessori primary school and it has been so incredible, we are very lucky to have such a supportive team around us. And the amazing, unexpected benefit has been an enormous increase in his language and social skills. Really unbelievable in only 9 weeks. So i guess for us our experience of mainstreaming has been so far really positive.
    Thanks again for such an excellent post on this critical issue. Ps I too was horrified and very surprised at the negative comments following the opinion piece in the paper. I thought we had progressed somewhat past those kinds of discriminatory attitudes.

    • Thanks very much for your comment and feedback tansy, I find it so valuable to hear about others’ experiences. We also had issues with the attitudes of our local mainstream school, but a change of principal and board of trustee members over a matter of years seemed to completely change the school’s attitude too – as you say, it’s still very hit and miss out there, and it needs to be far more consistent and better supported.

  2. mothermeg says:

    I myself feel that we need more special schools in New Zealand. My experiences of dealing with schools for my son who has Aspergers and suffered oxygen deprivation at birth, has been horrendous. Despite begging for help and even working with teachers etc the schools favourite option has been to send him home and refuse to let him participate and this was ongoing right through school. He spent two years in Christchurch at Hallswell and that was the best thing I ever did. He loved it and now years later still wants to go back. He thrived there and I wish we could of sent him there for 8yrs! Special teachers with empathy are few and far between and schools need more of them.

    • Yes, I think there are some very good arguments that we in fact have a shortage of special schools in New Zealand – I can legitimately see the value behind a full range of views in this area. I do hear of some bad experiences at special schools here, but so far most of the stories I hear are remarkably positive, I suppose it represents the same diversity of views and experiences that we all also hear about mainstream schools. Thanks for sharing your experiences mothermeg.

  3. I am a New Zealander living in South Africa. Sadly, we are way behind the rest of the world. Mainstreaming is a nightmare and there are no places in the few special needs schools that we have. Many of us have started our own little units which cater for a handful of children (at great cost). I am in favor of both. I think that mainstream is a must if the staff are trained and the school is a supportive environment. My child is on the more severe end of the spectrum, therefore a special needs school is a must for him. We, the parents, should be able to choose what works for our child and family. Very well written article, I enjoyed reading it.

  4. caelesti says:

    Wow, this is an amazing post, I’ll definitely be sharing it with other interested parties. Hi- I’m an autistic adult, and I was mainstreamed all thru school, had an aide in 4th grade thru 8th grade, mainly to keep me on task and help me deal with anxiety issues. I was at similar enough level academically with my peers, but socially & emotionally behind. From talking/working with both adults & kids on the spectrum, and folks with other disabilities, and parents & teachers, I’m in favor of the more options the better. Everyone (even with the same label) is different, and has unique needs that may be better served in some settings than others. I definitely think special needs schools should be available, especially for students with more challenges. For myself, switching from a regular high school to a small charter school served my needs, it was more individualized learning, I could work more with teachers 1 on 1. Regardless of what setting ends up working best for the student, I think having the chance to participate in organized activities with peers with & without disabilities is key, and making sure they have a chance to learn independent living skills/self-care skills. I wish some of those things existed for my brother, and he is in college!

    • Thanks so much for sharing your own experience caelesti – hearing from someone who personally went through the schooling system at issue and is able to articulate their own preferences and perspectives is just so invaluable. I tend to agree that the more options we have, the better, people – and as you say, even those with the same disabilities – are just so very diverse, we should make sure we are catering to that diversity.

  5. Autism Mom says:

    I see no reason why, in an ideal world, we could not have all students go to school together, learning how to see the strengths in everyone, with enough trained and informed teachers and parents instrumental in making sure bullying never takes place. Too naive? Perhaps. 🙂

    • I don’t think that’s naive Autism Mom, not at all. I want that too, I think that would be the best world and the best start for all kids. I suppose the question is how best to get there, because we’re not there yet. Is the way to get there by shutting down special schools to accelerate that progression, or should we keep them going, is it perhaps unrealistic to think we won’t need these schools some day, do we even “need” them now? I find these questions really interesting and important. Thanks very much for commenting.

      • Autism Mom says:

        My off the cuff response as to the way this could happen is:

        A) the school system must change its vision and mission for fully integrated schools with 1) more funding, 2) lots of communication and training, and 3) more staff paid well enough to draw highly talented people

        B) it should be implemented slowly, with parents and adult former special needs students including in the planning, and the schools should be integrated on a known, well-communicated schedule

        C) everyone should be prepared for intermittent course corrections, every 6 months or so looking back and honestly evaluating what worked and what didn’t – with no judgment about “good or bad” decisions – and how to continue moving forward with the vision leading the way.

        • For an “off the cuff” response, that was very thoughtful and so much better than what is happening currently with the closure of some of these schools. Excellent thoughts there Autism Mom, thanks for sharing!

        • Autism Mom says:

          My pleasure! Thank you for continuing to raise important issues in a thoughtful and well-reasoned way.

  6. Sidney says:

    In Belgium, there is now a program that will ‘downsize’ special schools in order to ‘upsize’ inclusivity in mainstream schools (please excuse my poor grammar and vocab). While I applaud the incentive, the problem is that there are no extra funds made available for this transition. Government says it will use the money spend on special ed to facilitate this transition. Which is wishfull thinking at best. I don’t have any experience in special education schools, but I do see that mainstream schools and a lot of teachers are not experienced, trained nor accomodated to handle the needs of kids with disabilities and difficulties. It is every government’s duty to fill this gap. I think what is mainly needed is a strong self-advocacy lobby that is involved in laying out the outlines and the specifics for truly inclusive education, and enough funds to invest in this transition. If those needs are met, I see no reason why we should keep segregating our kids and peers in different school types, let alone in society in general. The problem isn’t he special needs anyone has, the problem is the reluctance, ignorance or downright refusal to meet those needs.

    • There is a lot of truth in that Sidney, funding and attitudes are vital things alongside the rhetoric. And no need to apologise for your vocab or grammar, you expressed yourself very well and made important points, thank you for commenting.

    • caelesti says:

      This is something I’ve noticed happen in many places, including here in the States. A program (social service/educational) is deemed to not be effective (sometime partly due to how its run) and so it is replaced with something inadequate or eliminated altogether. I’m not a fan of for example, sheltered workshops, but often when those programs are gotten rid of they are not replaced with anything- and folks with disabilities just end up more bored, depressed and isolated from the broader community. Likewise, many mental institutions have been closed down over the years, but people were often not give alternatives, and just ended up on the street, in prison, in state/county hospitals that don’t have space for them etc.

  7. ambhannah says:

    See I didn’t find the value system much different at the Special Needs school. Yes there was more curriculum differentiation and it was better resourced, but I heard for myself the mantra they taught their new teacher aides “They have to fit into our world”. It seemed that they saw the school as a place for the ‘other child’ to attend and did not understand the concept that it is our world, all of us in it together whether we have a disability or not and that sometimes the world is just going to have to get used to difference. My son was singled out as being particularly naughty (and being in your face when many of the kids found that a sensory overload I’m not surprised!) and being in a satellite unit, he was often told that if he misbehaved he would be sent back to the base school. Sometimes he was indeed bundled into the car and taken back to the base school just to remind him of where he would end up. The Principal informed me that children in the satellite unit were ‘always on trial’. So, not only were we always on trial, but we were being ‘hosted’ at someone else’s local school. I never got to meet the other parents at the local school because the satellite would send their kids home half an hour earlier, because if you think about it, many had siblings and logistically you had to shut up earlier in order for families to pick up their other children often at schools far away. I also didn’t like the fact that the satellite class never changed – it was the same children year in and year out. Lunch was eaten inside whilst the other kids at the school ate in the playground. It really lived up to the word ‘satellite’ – hovering on the outside of the real world ! Anyway, I didn’t feel I had any more rights at that special school, I felt I had stepped back in time and was living in the 60’s. I could go on, about how I saw some of the children with particularly instense sensory difficulties being treated, but I won’t, lets just say that the quality of teacher aide wasn’t much different. I could also go into the time that I saw a child being screamed at by a taxi driver and the total indifference the school showed to that incident….no, sorry, but I don’t believe the school was interested in the value of their children, rather they were interested in managing them.

    • Hi A, I just want to start by saying I totally respect how different your experience was of the same school, I think it is very important to hear of how different children and families experience the same places. Some of the things you mention were strengths for my own son’s experience – such as having the same children each year, allowing him to establish friendships and not having to cope with excessive changes each year, I think that represents the fact that the class was not about age but about catering to ability level regardless of age, since the satellite classes were in part about grouping by ability level whereas base school was for the more challenging children. I recognised that being in a satellite unit was for the children who were less challenging than those at base school, since base school allowed more control and the grouping of resources to address those challenges, I recognised that it was conceivable my son may get replaced at base school if it was deemed that was the appropriate place for him, but I didn’t see it as a threat but as a matter of finding the best place for him to learn. If they decided the base school was right for him, then I would have accepted that as a legitimate option. I was also not of the view that they were trying to make my son like “normal” kids, in fact they were quite open about accepting some of the different classically autistic behaviours that most of the public doesn’t accept. None of that means I disagree with your own experiences and with what your son went through, we may have perceived them differently and how our children were treated may indeed be in huge variance, and yes that can be very concerning. I do want to say that I am very glad you have eventually found a school that does accept and include and appreciate your awesome son, that is what both he and you deserve. I also think it shouldn’t have been such a hard journey for you both, and I am so sorry for what you were both put through. I hope you know that I do support you, and I hear you, and that just because we experienced things differently doesn’t mean I devalue or dismiss your experiences, we need to hear the full variety. Wishing you all the best xxx

      • ambhannah says:

        Ditto to you too ! I suppose I just didn’t feel comfortable with the judgemental nature of it all – the base-satellite thing means some people are deemed fit for public consumption and others are not. I don’t see that the support is any different – in the case of physical difficulties then you just make that available in the satellite, in the case of behavioural, surely the techniques and ‘expertise’ should be the same ? Plus I did see the decline of kids who were left languishing in the base school. We’ve talked about it before but in terms of my daily experience, I still got the phone calls and the feedback focussing on the negative, it may be that the teacher was not so experienced with our particular disability but it goes to show you that the training wasn’t really any different. One thing from my previous comment I would like to modify ! Perhaps the statement that they didn’t ‘value’ our kids was too strong. It is more that I don’t think they got the whole idea of advocating for the kids. An example of this was when a friend at the base school was asked, quite seriously, why she wanted her son to learn to read ! We spent 6 months at the base school, whilst we were being assessed for our ‘ability’, not sure if this was the same for you. I’ll never forget wondering why they didn’t want us to stay for our son’s first school visit…..in mainstream the parents get to stay and observe … Anyway, I’m not saying that our kids can’t learn society ‘rules’ so to speak, I’m just saying that the rules have to be flexible and they won’t be flexible if kids with special needs are living their daily lives in a totally separate establishment. Also if they are living in a separate establishment it can actually make them more vulnerable to poor care. And ! I’m not saying that people don’t make mistakes when dealing with people with disabilities, but I believe in owning those mistakes and always aiming for best practise.

        • ambhannah says:

          It would be interesting to know some statistics on stand downs and expulsions from special needs schools too. I remember being amazed to hear that some kids still manage to get expelled from special needs schools for being too disruptive ! Doesn’t this just scream ‘it’s their fault not ours’ ? Surely in a situation when things are not working there might actually be something they have to change ? I thought we were supposed to be constantly looking for ways to get children engaged rather than punishing them for not being engaged….it shouldn’t be any different for special needs school.

        • Absolutely, and I totally agree with your core sentiments, we don’t vary there at all. It is interesting how much difference there was in how our kids were introduced to the same school, for example my son spent no time at base school for ongoing assessment, we were allowed to visit base school and a couple of satellite classes to get a look at what the options were like, and of course talked through my son’s abilities and challenges with both the principal and the prospective teacher prior to enrolment. We were allowed also to have visits to the satellite unit that he would eventually be placed in, where we were allowed to stay and observe as a parents to see what it would be like. That is so very different from what your family went through, if we hadn’t been able to stay and observe and if we hadn’t been able to view and have input on what option we thought suited him best, then yes I can imagine I’d be a lot less happy about the whole thing too! Having options, and having open communication between the school and the family, is so important, and it sounds like you we’re let down in those areas.

        • My reply above was to your comment above your last comment, and this is a reply to your most recent comment, sorry if this is getting a bit confusing! I was just going to say that I think there are publically available stats on stand-downs and exclusions for all schools in NZ through the Education Counts website, I’ll see if I can dig those up a bit later.

        • I looked up some of the data for exclusions, stand-downs, and suspensions, and it looks like there were 0 for the special school I was looking at, I haven’t had a look through others yet. You can find all the data through the “Education Counts” website. Click on “Find a School,” type in which one you want to look at, and have a look at the data on “student engagement.”

        • ambhannah says:

          It’s probably rare but I know that there are 2 – 3 taxi ‘stand downs’ a year at said special school. From memory the one I was told about was in West Auckland….

  8. Shanti says:

    When my daughter was in a public school, she hated it. I don’t know why; she couldn’t tell me, but her teacher had a PhD in special education and she had aides with a lot of experiences. The school was not perfect, but the problem was not training. She is much happier at a special needs school and if she couldn’t go there I think our only options would be to homeschool or put her on psychotropic meds. (sometimes necessary, but we wanted to avoid them if possible.) Options are important even if the reasons for them cannot be proven in a study.

    • ambhannah says:

      You are right. Although it would be so good to know why she didn’t like it. Maybe even though there was expertise the general mood of the school wasn’t inclusive ? It’s a whole school community thing. How was she integrated at say lunch times – were programmes made available, was any effort put into teaching social interactions ? I can totally understand the need for solidarity with other kids with disabilities and I too don’t know how this is achieved in mainstream….I often think of ways that this can be achieved and can only think of ‘clubs’ at school (they sometimes have these for other kids that share a common identity ) ? I know one thing – I have not seen any schools in my immediate area with state of the art ‘break out’ rooms where kids with special needs can retreat….

      • Just on that point A, my son’s school is currently upgrading it’s learning spaces and part of that is giving consideration to the needs of special kids within the mainstream environment, I’ll keep on eye on how it goes – but at least some schools are making an effort to take this into account.

        And Shanti, I just want to thank you for sharing your daughter’s story and experience – one of the reasons I enjoy blogging is the opportunity to engage with other families and hear how their experiences are the same or different than our own, thank you for taking the time to share.

  9. Kiri says:

    There is a third option that has not been mentioned here — home schooling. I home school my daughter now after years of appalling treatment in both mainstream and special education classes. She is much more independant and we experience less stress. My only gripe is the lack of funding for home schooling children with special needs in New Zealand. We only get a small fraction of what the schools get and yet we do a better job.

    • Hi Kiri. Just to clarify, I wasn’t at all trying to express all the varieties of schooling, I was only trying to address the issue of whether special schools should be shut down – whether to home school or not is a huge decision and a huge topic, that can be had entirely independently of the question about whether special schools should exist. You could close down all special schools and still choose to home school, or you could leave all special schools open and still choose to home school – the home schooling option exists independently, whereas closing or leaving open special schools directly and majorly impacts on what goes on in mainstream schools. I hope that clarifies why I didn’t go into a separate discussion about home schooling. Of course if you shut down all special schools there would be an increase in home-schooling (I expect), but again that doesn’t impact on the mainstreaming versus special schooling debate at hand. Thanks for commenting.

  10. Shirley says:

    Hi A&O,

    Thank you, I found your article really interesting. As an aside I recently sent the articles you referred to, to our SENCO. To my surprise they are going to use it as a topic for a staff meeting and use it as a tool to “unpack” where they think they fit as a school on the inclusion spectrum. So I am pleased they are thinking about it and are open to improvements.

    I have always thought if mainstream doesn’t work for our son and us then we would consider a satellite class, so from that view I appreciate that there are special schools.

    The difficulty I have with the satellite class at my son’s mainstream school is that it feels like token inclusion. The satellite class is physically located in a group of classes away from the mainstream school, lunch times are different and to be honest I have never seen any parents waiting to pick up their kids, only taxis.

    I think if the satellite class came under the responsibility of the host school (while maintaining the same funding and specialist staff), rather than the base school, the host school could make more inclusive decisions, i.e physically grouping the class amongst the others, all the teachers of the classes working as a team, aiming to have the kids attend certain parts of the mainstream class and build as appropriate while still allowing the kids an escape to the specialist class when they got too overloaded. I realise that my view is probably too simplistic and I am sure there are so many school politics in the way though for something like this to happen.

    I believe the school community should include us as a whole family, not just our son who attends. I think as a parent I would not feel connected to either school if my son was in the satellite class that is currently in place. I have been able to be involved in the school through assisting reading programmes and helping with Gala preparations and other fundraising. The advantage of this has been for parents to get to know me as me, not just the mother of the “naughty/different” boy. I feel I can have a chat to other parents and they get to know us as a whole family unit. I know there will always be those who avoid us but I hope (on the whole) that the more they know us the more they will be supportive and accepting of our sons’ differences.

    • ambhannah says:

      Great observation, there is no reason why every local school cannot cater in-house for their kids with special needs , I’m all for break out spaces, one to one occasionally, fluidity, I just think we’ve really got stuck in a rut with what’s available.

    • Hi Shirley. Really interesting to read your thoughts. I must say that there are good ways and bad ways to do satellite classes. My son’s satellite class did allow him to take part in mainstream classes at that school for some topics, and I have seen the latest satellite class that opened in Auckland was right in the centre of the school and appeared to have a built-in break-out space too, both of which are very encouraging steps in the right direction. I think – done well – satellite classes can and do work well, but that leads to the question of whether they are necessary when – as you say – it may just be better and lead to better outcomes if they were left fully in the responsibility of the mainstream school itself. I must say I completely sympathise with and have personally experienced the concern of not fitting into either school – I did not feel really connected to either the mainstream or the special school because I felt caught between the two, it was an odd out-of-place feeling and I didn’t like that feeling. I had a stronger link and sense of ownership to the special school between the two, but because my son wasn’t at base school it was never quite… fully realised, I guess. I do prefer the very clear and strong relationship I now have with the mainstream school my son attends, but I still wish I had access to the expertise and resources and highly personalised attention my son got at his old school.

      Anyway, thank you so much for putting those points and concerns forward, they are important considerations.

  11. AW says:

    Special needs schools are hugely important and we need more of them, not less. Inclusion for all is an illusion, designed to make people feel good and to save money. Yes, many children with special needs benefit from inclusion, but many do not. My daughter cannot learn like typical children and is so behind her peers any inclusion would be meaningless for her (her peers are more the kids with autism in her special school). My son may be able to mainstream, but it all depends whether or not he can master the noise and busyness of a typical classroom. Will he get the support he needs in a regular class? I’m not convinced, so am still on the fence for him. But cognitively he can do the work.

    • Hi AW, thanks for sharing your situation and views. I would be concerned that removing the option of special schools would deprive at least some of our kids – even if that number was a small subset of the special needs population, if any kids are objectively worse off then I think it is a poor idea to remove the option. Maybe that’s what this has to come down to; are ALL special needs kids benefitted by forced mainstreaming, and if the answer is no – and surely it must be no (?) – then the option to attend special school should remain. In reading the comments and debate on this, I find myself increasingly persuaded towards the importance of having that option available, otherwise we do a major disservice to the very most vulnerable children in the schooling population. I’ll continue to think on this of course, there are so many factors and perspectives and interests at play in this issue.

  12. Sarah says:

    I just wanted to share this article about an Auckland community who strongly opposed the closure of their special needs unit but now wholehearted endorses inclusion. If the unit wasn’t closed they would never have discovered the benefits of their children being fully included in their community. http://www.edgazette.govt.nz/Articles/Article.aspx?ArticleId=8723&Title=Inclusion:%20the%20%E2%80%98in%E2%80%99%20thing%20at%20Ranui

    • A very encouraging story, that beautifully shows how to make it work well – especially in terms of involving and communicating very clearly and constantly with the parents. Thank you very much for sharing that Sarah.

  13. How can I explain this, even students who are academically able to be mainstreamed don’t get exactly what they need at times. I suppose that is another discussion altogether eh?

  14. wondering says:

    `We need plenty of special needs schools. I feel very sorry for teachers in Public Schools who have to put up with problem children because mum thinks they should get special treatment and could not care what trouble or disruption they cause in the classroom to other children. You have Police called to Primary Schools on account of a disruptive child mum laughs and cannot see it is absolute disgrace for these things to go on in front of well behaved children whose parents do not get involved with Police. Schools put in lockdown it disgusting. Maybe it would be better if these children were home schooled by Mum and she may see what Teacher has to go through and also the rest of the class. Have they all got mental health problems or on too many drugs where alternative treatments may help or are they just uncontrollable children and allowed to do as they wish.

    • I was wondering whether to let your comment through, because it’s hard to figure out whether you’re being serious or you’re just trying to push buttons to get a reaction. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and let the comment through at this point.

      Please try to understand that there is no simple relationship between “special needs” and destructive or dangerous behaviours – you’ve treated them like the same category and that is simply incorrect. To base the rest of your views on that erroneous starting point means they’re all flawed too.

      Your notion that mothers “laugh” at these situations when they do occur is so far removed from reality that it is absurd. Have you ever seen such a thing? I have never, nor have I ever heard, of such a reaction from a mother in such situations. It looks like pure fiction to me.

      And lastly, your view that these mothers should consider homeschooling because that way the mothers would know what the child is doing at school, is equally bizarre as the rest of your comment – mothers are fully aware of how challenging their children can be in all sorts of situations, furthermore the nature of the challenges faced in a classroom can be very different from those faced during the process of homeschooling – your entire proposition feels like a non-sequitur.

      There is so much else wrong with your comment, but I will just end with this overall point: Your views are not based on reality, they are misinformed, and hurtful in their (rather cruel) presumptions. If you genuinely want to learn more about these issues and challenges, then talk to these families, and do some research, instead of spouting off such utter nonsense.

    • ambhannah says:

      I really dislike posts like this because it is clearly obvious that the posters comments are based on a particular situation and most probably the situation has nothing to do with special needs whatsoever. That said, even if the comments are made about a family with issues around drug abuse and antisocial behaviour I still think they indicate deep ignorance and prejudice.

    • Kiri says:

      Judging by what “Wondering” has written, I’d say this person has not had the benefit of a good education. Could this be the reason behind the bitterness in the post? If so, then I feel sorry for Wondering. It is a pity that this person has not been able to take advantage of the wonderful free education we have in New Zealand. It is not, however, a justification for attacking vulnerable children. As others have pointed out, delinquency and special education are two completely separate issues.

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