Children learn far more than lessons in school, and a big thing they learn about is diversity. They realise on their first day at nursery that everyone is different. My children have all been very lucky and attended schools which have been specifically inclusive to deaf children. They have learnt to communicate, to play and work with children who can't hear like they can. In return the deaf children have learnt how to work best with hearing people. It works, and it benefits the individuals and makes for a healthier society as a whole.
Our own family experiences of people on the Autistic Spectrum have shown us that mainstream education has proven to be not only possible, but beneficial, with our youngsters attaining excellent results both academically and socially.
Before I had any idea I would ever live with anyone on the Autistic Spectrum I worked with young people with a variety of additional needs at a mainstream sixth form college, and I have also supported deaf youngsters in a mainstream nursery. For me at least, Inclusive Education has been proven to work. There is no greater work reward than an 18 year old passing an exam when you've been writing or signing or generally just being there for them all year.
I appreciate there are children and young people who will never be able to cope in mainstream education. All the funding in the world isn't going to make it a safe or happy environment for them. These children are very special and need extra care in order to thrive. Inclusion is about treating everyone differently. It's about helping everyone to get as far up the staircase they are climbing as possible, even if they may never reach the top.
In 2005 the 'Inclusion For Everyone' policy was launched with the aim to include as many children and young people as possible in mainstream education. It was met with some reluctance all round and so it's really pleasing to read in the outcomes from a recent Inclusion Survey that 58% of the public now feel it was a success.
The survey, which was commission by Simpson Millar, also questioned parents, teachers, Ofsted and the teachers unions NUT and NASUWT. The over-riding opinion is that it can and should work, but that funding is an issue. Unfortunately inclusion costs, and everyone wants someone else to foot the bill.
I know because, not only have I worked in additional needs provision, I have also been a School Governor, funding is inadequate. Statements are very hard to achieve, and when they are in place often the funding provided covers only a portion of the additional help required. Nurseries, schools and colleges have to deal with anxious parents, over-worked staff, and children and young people who have so much to give, if only we had the ability to access it.
I was delighted when I was asked to write about this, as it's something I feel strongly about and I'd have happily chatted about it for ages without being paid to. I'm really glad that this system works, I'm sad it struggles with funding. I have a vested interest, I have my own young people to think about. I want them to be able to access whatever additional help they may need to reach their full potential, and I want them to learn to appreciate the differences in other people throughout their lives.
While my children are happy in mainstream education and run to school giggling every day I want them to be able to stay there, alongside their siblings, children with physical disabilities, deaf children and real life diversity. I want them to be able to have friends who live round the corner, and play on the same park, and carry on to the same High School.
14th - 18th March 2016 is Schools' Autism Awareness Week. If you are lucky your child's school will participate, and your children may even come home with something they can teach you.