We have had two child planning meetings now with Trudy in her new setting.
In the first meeting, you asked us what we thought about special education. I explained that we were well informed as I was a specialist teacher working in a special school with children with a range of needs, and Alex was a mainstream primary school teacher. We acknowledged the importance of reviewing Trudy’s progress and making an informed decision about where she would go. At present, nursery is a play-based environment and perfectly suited to the needs of a child with a learning disability. We see no issue in having her in a mainstream school, particularly whilst her brother is also there.
At the first meeting, nobody had met Trudy. We explained that the pile of paper we gave them was not going to tell them about the kind of person Trudy was. They would have to meet her.
Since then, Trudy has been successful at making her own friendships, integrating into the nursery environment, respectfully listening to instructions and learning to potty-train. Staff were hesitant at first because they had never had a child with Down’s Syndrome before. I respected their honesty and we have worked together to make sure that they get the right information at the right time. They had the right inherent attitudes to work with a child who is different, embracing diversity instead of withdrawing from it.
At the second meeting, you brought up special education again, against anything that is written in legislation and policy about the presumption of mainstreaming for young people with additional support needs and when we had been very clear about what we want for Trudy. I don’t want to have to cite all the Acts, but I will.
It is wholly inappropriate to discuss something that we do not think is relevant at Trudy’s time of life, when they might be the only years when Trudy is able to be a genuine part of her community.
We will be the first people to recognise the signs when Trudy’s life is miserable in mainstream school and we hope that this will never be the case because we believe that she is able enough to partake in mainstream life. Research around DS from around the world acknowledges that children with DS are achieving more in mainstream settings because of the exposure to children who are developmentally more advanced than them. Child planning meetings are set up so that we have the opportunity to review the suitability of the school as well as her progress. Staff will let us know when they believe that Trudy is no longer achieving in their setting, and they should be empowered to do so. Trudy herself will show signs of not wanting to go to school and will have the capacity to explain to us how she is feeling.
I work with children with a range of complex needs, including complex communication needs and there is not one child who is incapable of expressing their opinion. It might not be in a conventional way, but it is clear when a child is not happy.
This is by no means attaching stigma to special schools. I believe that children need to be in the right setting for them and the school I work in is the right setting for its pupils, with access to the specialist support that they wouldn’t otherwise get in mainstream. We are happy to move Trudy across to a specialist setting if we feel the time is right. Not at the age of 4.
Please refrain from discussing options to parents who are not considering them, as it implies that there is agenda behind the words. We are well aware that Local Authorities are considering alternatives to mainstream settings as the system is currently unsustainable. However, as far as we are concerned, our little girl should not be subject to the changing tides of the education system but be at the heart of all decisions around her future.