Moray warned against ‘hiding away’ special needs pupils

Debate rages over special needs education

MORAY COUNCIL PLANS to turn the clock back and remove special needs children from the general school population would “take us back years”.

That was one of the views being expressed by a national children’s charity after the local authority revealed this week discussions had been taking place over the recreation of a special school in Moray.

This week Laurence Findlay, the council’s corporate director of education and social care, warned Councillors that an increasing number of Moray pupils required extra help – and that was posing a “significant challenge” to schools.

He added that for that reason talks had been taking place over the creation of a special school in Moray. He told members of the audit and performance committee: “We have a huge amount of youngsters with exceptional needs in our schools – and less money available to spread around all 53 of them.

“The resources we have are not sustainable in the long-term and would be spread too thinly across the area.”

Former Elgin councillor Barry Jarvis was one of the first to react to the news on insideMoray, saying that the inclusion policy in Moray’s schools should not be abandoned: “After years of trying to get over the stigma that was created by the existence of special schools in the first place we now want them back? A retrograde step in my opinion.

“By removing individuals from sight and putting them into special, separate, different, away from everyone else schools – that simply perpetuates the thought that they are not part of society and that they have no place or value and need to be hidden away.”

The chief executive of Down’s Syndrome Scotland, Pandora Summerfield, said if Moray went down such a road it could “take us back years”. She added: “We believe that children with disabilities can and do thrive in mainstream education, and that from having a disabled classmate their peers benefit too.

“It helps children learn that we are all different and we all have different needs. When I was at school everybody who had additional needs automatically went to a special school – and it was not until later in life people of my generation encountered people with different needs.

“I hope Moray Council – if it goes ahead with these proposals – exerts proper care to ensure children are allocated to these schools correctly.”

Schools remembered ‘with fondness’

However, not all comments posted to insideMoray’s Facebook page on Thursday were against the idea of Moray returning to special schools. One reader, Sandy Smith, said: “My son had to attend a special school for two years because standard school doors were not wide enough for his wheelchair to go through.

“Thankfully his disability was temporary but those two years at the special school are recalled by him with much fondness (he is 36 now).

“I was also given an education during that time of just how amazing disabled children actually are. The reason they were called ‘special schools’ is because of the special people who attended them.”

Another parent, Ceri Maria Cremin, added: “After going through years of struggling to find the help for my daughters needs in the local primary school, as there is just not the resources or time for specialised training, I welcome this idea.”

Last night a spokesman for Education Scotland warned that any move by Moray towards special schools would diverge from the current national approach on the issue.

The spokesman said: “Scotland has an inclusive education system and identifies about 20% of the school population as requiring additional support in their learning.”

However, the spokesman added that in some cases special schools are still used, adding: “All children and young people are entitled to attend their local school and across Scotland about 98% of children attend their neighbourhood mainstream school.

“Some children with additional support needs attend special schools and units in order to receive help in reaching their full potential.”