Today* I visited a primary school which has a resource base for children with labels of “profound and multiple learning difficulties”. Every pupil who attends the school as part of the resource base has a place in one of the ordinary classes alongside their peers and is included in all aspects of school life. Space that could have been a separate classroom for resource base pupils is used, instead, as storage space for their equipment. Wheelchairs, standing frames and such like are welcome here, seen as an integral part of some children’s lives (valued almost like an extension of their arms and legs, as a colleague and friend once said to me).
As we walked through the school we saw a group of children taking turns to run under a large parachute. I commented on the generous adult:child ratio and, perhaps even rarer these days, the presence of men among the adults. I wondered if they might be students, or parent helpers. The headteacher told me that the larger ratio is because of the resource base and that, when appointing new staff, the school makes it clear that applications from men are welcome.
I asked how the wider school community feels about including disabled children. In the past, apparently some parents had been worried about this and expressed concern that it might interfere with their own child’s learning. The school welcomes such comments as an opportunity to discuss things openly. Staff have always been clear that, as a community school, they have a responsibility to all local children, all of whom are welcome. If a child needs significantly more help to learn, they usually come with additional money which pays for learning supporters in class. This means there is a higher adult:chid ratio, stronger attention to differentiation and more opportunities for children to better understand each other. For all these reasons, all children benefit from learning and developing alongside one another. Disabled children routinely choose a ‘buddy’ to go with them to sessions in the hydrotherapy pool, sensory room and such like. This, too, benefits everyone: it gives non-disabled pupils valuable insights into disability and helps cement friendships. It’s easy to think of schools as places where teachers teach and children learn, and all too easy to forget that children learn a lot from each other as well.
I am always pleased to see schools which treat impairments as an ordinary part of life, and this school is no exception. I was particularly impressed to see a young boy finishing off an activity at a table, then helped into his wheelchair to move to the next activity. A member of staff moved his backpack from the back of the chair to the back of his wheelchair and later casually mentioned that this contains his oxygen supply. I had not, until that moment, noticed the thin tube running from the backpack to this child’s nose. My hunch is that not many people in the school notice it much either.
* Written in March, posted in July