by Jenny Sorbie on 04 November 2014
Our daughter Holly has CDC and attends a split mainstream/special school placement in Scotland. Holly’s main education setting is a fantastic special school for children with complex needs. Children who attend will have a severe to profound learning disability and additionally many have complex physical disabilities and communication problems. She has been attending since the age of two, and will remain there until she turns 18. There are resident physiotherapists and speech and language therapists. The school has a wonderful ethos and primarily focuses on educating as opposed to looking after the children.
In tandem with this Holly has benefited hugely from a social placement at our local mainstream primary school. She has been attending sessions at this school since nursery and has moved through the school with her peer group.
Both schools have worked extremely hard to make this placement work for Holly. She currently has two ten-week placements during the school year. She attends mainstream Primary on a Friday morning from 9am-11.30am. I have the pleasure of pushing Holly up to school in her wheelchair (weather permitting!) along with all the other local children. Holly’s other school is 20 minutes’ drive away so Friday’s are very special and it is just like it was for her big sisters.
The children are what make this placement so special. From the moment we enter the playground they come over and say hello using makaton. They have come to accept and understand her limitations. The reason Holly attends on Friday mornings is to maximise her opportunities to join in. First of all it is assembly which is a whole school event, this is followed by a small group working with Holly for about half an hour on a specific activity such as acting out a story, art, or a topic which may be linked in with maths. Each week a different group of four children work with Holly and according to her teacher all the children are keen to volunteer and don’t see this as a task. Holly then has break time which gives her an opportunity to play outside with the children. Holly has the 1:1 support from an additional support needs teaching assistant.
A few years ago we even had all three of our daughter’s at the same school, Holly in nursery, Hannah in P4 and Hayley in P7. If someone had told me this could happen when Holly was first diagnosed with CDC I would never have believed them. We very much appreciate the success and longevity of this placement has been down to the innovative way staff in both schools have devised the placement.
When Holly’s special school was inspected by Education Scotland their report identified the importance of placements like Holly’s. Since then an increasing number of children from Holly’s school have secured similar placements in their local schools (approximately 10% of children in the nursery and primary school). We know that the special school is Holly’s primary source of education however this is complemented and enhanced by her placement in a mainstream school.
Integration will continue when Holly moves to secondary education. The school she is in has designated space in the mainstream senior school, and from age 16 they can even be based full time within the mainstream school supported and taught by staff from the special school. When this was first introduced a few years ago a number of parents were extremely apprehensive about this given their children had never been in a mainstream school, however the project has been a huge success. The young people have benefited greatly from being able to use the facilities of a new secondary school including art rooms, music rooms and the gym. Children from the senior years of the mainstream school spend time with our young people and help them integrate in the canteen at lunchtime etc. This has further established links across the community for our young people and I guess that is what it is all about - helping our young people to be part of their local community whilst giving them the best educational opportunities.