Kate E. Reynolds

  • What the **** is Normal?

    'What the **** is Normal?' is the title of Francesca Martinez's book. The comedian, speaker, actress and writer is probably best known in the United Kingdom for her role in the television series Grange Hill about a secondary school in London. As she described in her performance last evening, Francesca credits the television series with saving her from the bullying she was experiencing at the hands of her peers at mainstream secondary school. Instead of school , she spent 9 months per year filming. An outspoken critic of segregation of any form for disabled people, Martinez described her intense dislike of special schools, which she feels removes disabled people from sight and marginalises their lives. She continues by emphasising the benefits to mainstream children of playing and learning alongside disabled children as well as vice versa. Mainstream children learn to empathise, be patient and accept difference; disabled children grow in self esteem by being accepted and acknowledged for their talents, according to the scenario Martinez outlined engagingly with humour and deference.

    I wondered how many of the audience were in my position, my son having tried mainstream school and now being in a special school for his secondary education. This move always filled me with both doubt and guilt. I was well aware of the arguments for my son remaining in mainstream education. I had seen my son's behaviours alter for the better once he was included in mainstream classes for a few months from a resource centre for children with disabilities. The problem was that I'd had to threaten the mainstream school with a legal tribunal to get them to include my son in mainstream education, which I had thought was happening from the moment my son started at the school four years before. Inclusion did not mean inclusion in this state school. Inclusion simply meant being in a room located within a mainstream school. Real inclusion means disabled children are primarily in mainstream classes with a very small proportion, if any, of their school week in a special class for only specified and justifiable reasons. As a Year 6 child, my son was placed with reception, year 1 and year 2 children in a resource centre with a very patient and kind teacher. The school stated that he would hamper the learning of his peers in mainstream school. Although they claimed to agree with me that my son should be included with his mainstream peers and should not be with children several years younger than himself, both the educational psychologist and the SEND representative from this local Council informed me they had no power to force the school to instigate these changes; their role was simply to advise.

    Since he's attended a special school my son has learned alongside peers of his own age. He has grown in confidence. Yet he is marginalised from the very community he will be living in after he completes his education.

    My physical and mental health has improved without an ongoing battle with mainstream schools and the local authority. I felt nothing but relief when my son started at the special school, where I felt staff understood the nature of disability, how to develop children's independence and focus on their talents, not their 'deficits.' Staff also treated me with respect even when I didn't always agree with their actions.

    I often wonder what might have been different for my son had he properly been included in a mainstream school. I also wonder how the UK will ever progress towards closing special schools and including all children together in state schools. I do believe that including disabled children in mainstream education can be beneficial to all children. Only political action can address this issue.

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Kate E Reynolds - blogging

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