Yesterday I was talking to a mum whose nine-year-old daughter has autism. She has been in a mainstream school since she was five, but lately she has started to retreat further and further into her own world as she starts to feel increasingly isolated from her classmates. She has also been badly bullied.
So what's the school's solution? To help her become more integrated, to encourage the other kids to be more friendly and understanding? You'd think (hope) so… but no. Towards the end of last term, the Headteacher of this high-achieving primary told the little girl's mum there was nothing more they could do for her there, and she would be better off in a school for children with special needs.
'I was devastated,' her mum told me. 'There are only two schools for children with special needs in the Borough, and they really cater for children with severe physical disabilities, not autism. I don't know what to do. And I'm angry – I feel they don't want her there because they're so obsessed with the league tables.'
Meanwhile a good friend whose wonderful seven-year-old daughter was born with an extremely rare genetic disorder has had to fight for every crumb of help they've been given by their local authority (they had to wait two years for a walking frame). Yet this summer she was told there was no room for her little girl on a playscheme for children with special needs.
It seems so wrong to me that in 2009 parents of children with special needs should still have to fight so hard for any support, assistance and understanding they are given. The ludicrous 'one size fits all' approach taken by many local authorities is hopelessly outdated.
There is some good news. On 3 August it was announced that school inspections will have to focus on the quality of provision for children with SEN and disabilities
Let's face it, it's long overdue.
written by Liz Jarvis