Public schools in different European countries adapt differently to special needs children, and the comparison I want to make are the public schools of the UK and those of France, as with just the English Channel between them, they are worlds apart.
In the UK, the special needs child is better catered for than in the past. Special Schools and the stigma that they create for that child that is different at still there. They are a way out for mainstream schools to send those children that the public schools fail to be able to integrate, though steps are being taken to try and rectify the situation. The problems that are faced in the UK are that the teaching staff for the past twenty years have complained bitterly about the extra work involved in assessment, large classes and unruly children, though a proportion of the special needs statistics actually exists because of poor teaching methods in the first place.
Understanding that education wasn’t working, improvements have been made, though the special needs child is far from catered for adequately in a system that lacks finance, and help has been enlisted from schoolroom assistants to give that little bit of extra help to children that need it. The gifted child as well as those with learning difficulties suffer because of the inability of schools to find any flexibility and the pressure upon parents of special needs children is enormous. Children are given chances, but what is the likelihood of success when both the educational system and parents don’t have the necessary expertise ? In the UK, when a child is so far behind others, what happens is that social services takes over and as soon as social workers and assessment workers are involved, the adaptation fails, because an alternative placement is found for the child. There are exceptions where parents have more expertise and can supplement the education at home, though these are rare, and in the meantime special needs children are being put to one side as a problem, rather than tackling the root problem which lies with the public school’s inability to adapt.
In France, especially in rural areas, the system of education is much different. The French have a system of re-doubling, which means there is flexibility within the school not only to cater for the special needs child who is slow but also for those that are gifted. What happens is that if after a year’s schooling the child fails assessment tests, the child sits the same year again. This is extremely effective. There is no stigma. What France retained that the UK didn’t is a strict adherence to old fashioned methods of teaching that cater for all levels of children. In the social environment as well, the lack of respect for adults that is demonstrated in schools within the UK making teaching even the normal child difficult for the teacher, is different in France. Children take their studies seriously and to look into why those differences happen will take you back through the last thirty years and the over-population problems that the UK faced, coupled with employing less qualified teachers simply because the supply was smaller than the demands.
In France, a dyslexic child is given time within the normal classroom to develop the skills of reading and writing. The slow withdrawn child is educated in the same way, although the social services aspect isn’t there to move the special needs child out of mainstream schools. They are there to assist the parent with an aspect the schools don’t even consider to be a problem. Psychologists are called in though their work is not as public as in the UK, and the stigmas avoided.
Both countries have their merits, though France recognize that children that are gifted need stimulation. These can move forward a year within a very flexible schooling structure that understands that children are children and doesn’t add the stigma of labels. The child is an individual no matter what their abilities and every child is special.
Adaptation of attitude is needed in the UK, though it takes a very long time for the effects of attitude to change, and in the meantime, with school performance being measured as a status symbol to recognition of excellence, what ultimately happens is that our conception of “special” as parents isn’t always what the school recognizes as indeed being “special”, and the children with special needs are ultimately the ones that get swept aside.