Re-educating the educated.
I have seen two systems of special care in Europe close up, and can compare them to demonstrate how the different aspects of different country’s culture and education affect the integration of special needs children within the normal school system. The comparisons in are astounding and there can be a clear message from understanding the differences in approach, and how effective they are.
The United Kingdom are making efforts in special needs cases, although the progress is slow. Teachers see special needs children quite frankly as outside of their scope. Newspapers tell of changes within the education system and there is always uproar amongst teachers about the massive amount of assessment work that they have to do. The staunch argument that numbers in classrooms have increased don’t add up, backed up by my own education in the United Kingdom during the late 50’s and 60’s. Teachers say they are under-paid and that their classes are too big to handle, although the average class size hasn’t altered as much as they would have you believe.
Against this backdrop of discontent, of course, you do have teachers that specialize in the social and educational needs of special needs children, although having specialized teachers means that automatically those children are being dealt with separately, and therefore not truly integrated.
Teachers need to organize their time better to cope with those children with special needs.
Teachers need to see all the extra measures of standards as a positive thing, rather than extra workload, because new assessment levels are there to help the very people whose lives make that teacher’s job valid.
Teachers need motivation to do the best they can for all their class, and use the new assessment methods to improve their own performance.
When confronting a French school with the proposal that an English couple want to place a special needs child within their school, the message was a clear one. The school said that they saw no problem. This might seem simplistic as a comparison, although the simplicity in the French response is as the product of the setting up of the basic fundamental rules of education that allows for the child with development difficulties to integrate without disruption. The way in which this is dealt with in the French system is called re-doubling. What this means is that if a child lags behind the class, they have the opportunity of staying within that year of the curriculum for another year. If they are gifted, they have the opportunity to jump forward a year. The flexibility of this system compared to the UK means that children are easily integrated and that the special needs aspect is dealt with by either an extension or advancement in their study time. Everyone wins.
A little more flexibility in the curriculum and the strict methods of teaching may open up channels for slow learners rather than them having to re-double.
UK Educational standards of teaching staff.
In the late seventies and early eighties in the United Kingdom, educated people were being offered positions in commercial enterprises that paid double the amount allotted for wages for teachers. There were not enough teachers, as many decided that teaching was a low priority because of the differences in pay. The government changed the criteria for teaching staff, and lowered the qualification levels. It was a short sighted move, and although many teachers are quality teachers, many simply got jobs without the qualifications that used to be essential, and what followed was chaos. These teachers are not judged on performance to any great extent, and the poorer areas who were less choosy about teaching staff took on under qualified staff in the early eighties whose attitude towards special needs children was that they were not their problem once the year had passed, and those children moved to another teachers area of responsibility.
It’s a bit of a generalization because not all areas were as bad as demonstrated, and I can only make my opinion based on my experience. A child could slip through the system simply because parents were inadequately equipped to realize that their children were failing, and teachers didn’t assess the children. Children in one Southampton area could get as far as 10 years old never having learned the basics of mathematics or written work. It was almost as if the child didn’t exist.
Tips for teachers:
Use your educational skills to find ways of organizing classes so that you have extra time for those children that need it.
Go the extra miles for the kids in your class, and focus on the positivity of action, rather than the negativity of system.
France Educational standards of teaching staff.
Staff in France really do have to get very high standard educational passes to become teachers. The language is complex and the structure of teaching fairly rigid in that the goals are worked on and children achieve very high levels of expertise at an early age. With the system of re-doubling the Government looked into how they assess the ability of teachers, and the general attitude is that if children have to re-double on a regular basis following education by one particular teacher, then the teacher is investigated and the problems surrounding their teaching practice looked into and helped.
Special needs children integrate, and where necessary extra help is available both during school hours or after school, usually in private, and not disrupting the general classroom activities. They seem to get the balance right, not singling out or labeling special needs children. They do not see it as an issue for example that a child doesn’t even speak the same language, but work on the skills to bring the child up to a set standard each term.
Moving the gifted child on a year is longwinded. Take care to stimulate that child with reading material and challenge while they wait to move on.
In Europe we have a long way to go before education is perfect. The funding in France is better than in the United Kingdom, though the attitude in France is positive and encourages parents to discuss with teachers the needs of their child. The only time that children are singled out in France for separate education is when physical disability means that a child cannot have his physical needs catered for.
Children from whatever background merit an education. Work needs to be done to the attitudes of teaching staff in order to make them understand the importance of seeing that each child’s needs are catered for. It is the responsibility of both parents and teachers together, and only by working out solutions together as in the French system can everyone benefit. The UK continue to learn, are working hard though have a long way to go.
We are all learning. Every staff member, every child, every parent. Never forget that none of us have all the answers, and taking each child on their own merits, disabilities and needs helps everyone to reach their potential, no matter what the level of potential is.