From the age of about eight I had become determined to change the world. Although young I had already experienced a great deal of life as an
outsider. It gave me a different viewpoint to those of most of the people around me and I started a long search for a group of people who thought like me and for a way of making a difference. I was not a social worker type. I did not want to
help people, probably because I had been on the end of many other people’s attempts to
help me and found it intensely patronising and irritating. I also reasoned that
helping people was a never-ending mission because, while the world kept on creating so many casualties, there would be an endless supply of victims to be patched up and send back out into the war. I wanted to stop the war.
I had a long period of learning and trying out new ideas through my art, through Co-Counselling, through developing a political awareness and helping to build the disability movement and particularly through helping to develop the skills of Disability Equality Training in myself and others.
However none of these compared to the commitment I made to my little daughter, disabled, feisty, full of life and longing to be in the thick of it. I knew then I had to tackle the ability of the State to segregate children on the basis of their capabilities, a power which I believe to be deeply oppressive – an infringement of our human rights, and the root cause of the ignorance and fear which surrounds disability to this day. The law currently uses education law and practice to create a divided community, starting when we are defenceless and young, preparing us for a divided adult world in which too many wonderful humans still are swept away into day centres, sheltered workshops, adult training centres,
discreet college courses, group homes and institutions including prisons and hospitals.
It started because I wanted Lucy to go to her local mainstream school and have the support she needed to take part in all aspects of school life. That was eighteen years ago. I knew nothing about mainstream schools, having never been inside one. I only knew that special schools, however
good they seemed, only lead to a sense of rejection and second class citizenship in the children who go there, and fear and ignorance in those who don’t.
I joined with other parents and disabled
survivors of the segregated system to challenge Local Authorities, Schools and the Government to create something new and better for our children’s generation - an Inclusive Education System.
Our argument is often misunderstood. We are told that mainstream fails many children with more complex needs, that non-disabled children are held back, that teachers cannot cope with disruptive behaviour, we parents are in denial about our children’s difficulties and inclusion is just a cruel cost cutting measure. None of this reflects the real basis of our struggle.
We are starting from the question: What kind of world do we want to live in? After all, those who believe in segregated education have had their day. Until very recently all children with any kind of
special need from a limp to severe learning difficulties were sent to special schools. We are living with the results. They may
work from the point of view of the non-disabled world which wants us out of sight, looked after by Saints and causing no trouble to anyone, but they do not work from the point of view of human beings who want to be visible, accepted, to be valued, to have a role in society.
All over the world, when disabled people, including those with learning difficulties, have self organised and started to make demands, the demand for inclusion in family life, school, work (where appropriate), housing and transport has always been paramount because we have experienced segregation and know the harm it has caused. These demands are increasingly being transformed into Rights and becoming enshrined in Human Rights Legislation.
Inclusion is not an easy option. It is difficult because it requires people to examine their deepest held prejudices and fears; it asks people to learn new skills; it means people have to think creatively and design individual solutions for unique people; it means doing things differently and risking failure.
An inclusive education system is not the one we have now. It is designed for a different outcome and has different priorities – connection, friendship, emotional intelligence, collaboration rather than competition, learning for life not just employment. The way to get there is to start with what we now have and allow change to happen by focussing on particular children who come to the door and ask to be let in. Where there is the will it is do-able and, increasingly, is being done.
Some teachers, some schools, some LEAs have risen to the challenge and there is now much documented evidence that a child with any type and any level of impairment or social need can be successfully included in a mainstream school, if the school is willing to embrace change. (Where it is not, a form of
integration is happening – getting the child to fit in with an institution designed without their needs in mind. This is what is often called
failed inclusion, but it is nothing of the sort.)
What is even more exciting is the picture that is emerging of the common threads within inclusive schools:
- They are non-heirarchical in structure
- Young people are respected
- Young people are trained to solve their own problems through peer mediation, circles of friends, restorative justice conferencing etc.
- Problems are seen as learning opportunities
- They have a can-do attitude
- Exclusions are reduced and even stopped altogether
- Inclusion is applied to the whole school community, not just the children
To find our more about inclusive education, to get help and support as a parent or teacher, to read more as a student, or to join an organisation or campaign which is working towards inclusive education, have a look at the useful links page.