Editorial: Forget separating them – all children have special needs

The weekly opinion of the Editor on topical events affecting Moray.

THE CRUELTY OF humans towards each other is never more pronounced than in our children, who, knowing little better, can have a devastating and life-long effect on those deemed not to be ‘normal’.

That was brought home to me again this week on reading comments on insideMoray’s reports from Moray Council, where the Director of Education and Social Care, Laurence Findlay, spoke of a possible need to revert to the use of ‘special schools’ in the region.

Having met Mr Findlay I can say that nothing is more important to him than the welfare of our school-age children. He has worked tirelessly as a teacher and now an administrator with a vital job to do – and he will speak the truth no matter how unpalatable it might appear to be.

He is fighting a very tough battle right now, balancing the needs and best interests of young people in Moray against the stark reality that the hard cash required to do everything he would love to do is just not there.

He has to balance the hopes and desires of parents and children against the many conflicting demands – cutting back where it causes least damage, investing where it will bring the greatest benefits.

The term ‘Special Schools’ means different things to different people. I read with interest and the greatest respect the comments of one parent whose son had gone through the special school system in Moray.

He insisted that his son – now in his thirties – remembered his two years there with a special fondness and said he had always regarded that such schools were special because of the “special people who attended them”.

On the other hand, I recall my own formative years in the 1950’s and 1960’s, when the ‘special schools’ were regarded in a very different way. We teased those children who were ‘not like us’, who boarded the distinct yellow bus each day to carry them to another part of the district to attend the “dafties school”.

I know now, as a reasoned adult, just how viciously cruel that was – and I’m sure any lingering shame I still feel at these childhood memories will be shared by many of our readers who have similar experiences.

So then it is very easy for us to have sympathy with both sides of this particular debate.

The move away from special schools in Moray and throughout Scotland was carried out for very good reasons – in particular to allow all those children who have special needs to mix and be taught alongside the general school population.  By doing that we hoped that it would show all children that we are the same with the same needs – no matter how differently we might act or appear.

I’m no expert but I have a sense that it is an approach that has worked – I have a sense that this and the many other more enlightened approaches we have to social integration and inclusion is producing far better and more balanced adults.

So I’m hoping that Mr Findlay will continue his talks over the re-introduction of special schools – but that he concludes that, actually, meeting financial pressures with a backward step into the darkness is not the way for this or any other society to behave.