Integrated Education? Not applicable to disabled children.
A Guest post by Bernie Drayne
Let’s talk about integrated education – Northern Ireland style. Shared future, shared education – yes these are very worthy aspirations i.e. equality for all children to share their education and lives together. Yes, I’m up for that. Our society needs to move on.
However, our particular brand of integrated education does not chime with an international understanding of integration or inclusive schooling, which has the sharing of education with disabled and non-disabled children at its heart.
Our Northern Irish interpretation of equality and sharing for all seems like being a little bit pregnant – equality is only suitable or promoted for some children but not for all.
Sharing should involve all children, but disabled children have never been featured in any discussions of integrated education in NI.
Children who attend special schools and those who have disabilities and are in mainstream schools are the most segregated of all children in our society. There is no appreciation that children who are bussed out to special schools never actually become part of the communities they live in.
‘Special children’ do not become ‘special adults’ – few make it to university, very few may find work whilst others are relegated to day centres or living on benefits. Many have no contact with non-disabled peers and instead have to rely on parents who are their only friends. Others have to rely on Direct Payments to pay for someone to come and take them out of the house – paid friendship, in other words.
The arguments for integrated education here revolve around diminishing fear, prejudice, intolerance of difference – these are all the same reasons why disability should be on this agenda. We need to tackle the mystique and tragedy of disability. We have got to stop the nonsense about ‘overcoming’ disability – we have to move to an acceptance not of the disabled child – but of the idea that disabled children and young people have the same thoughts and aspirations as their non disabled peers – and one major aspiration is simply having friendships, being included in their school communities as equals but not as inspiration donors.
Our school system churns out many talented students who enter the allied health and medical professions, yet many of them have never even spoken to a disabled peer…. and when ‘confronted’ by a child in a wheelchair, a non-disabled child will either stare in horror or will be quickly dragged away by their parent. Surely it is time to tackle this.
I queried the omission of disability in the integrated schools campaign with several local representatives. The eye-watering arrogance and hypocritical replies all centered on the ‘wonderful special school sector’ we should be grateful for – all wanted to rap my knuckles for daring to query this, whilst one representative exhorted me not to bring the subject of disability up – as it would damage the campaign. Thus, no interest, questioning, or analysis – don’t upset the applecart, it’s all lovely.
If the great and the good want to jump on the bandwagon of integrated education they also need to challenge disability issues. This elephant in the room illustrates naivety, indifference, and inability to challenge some really difficult issues and prejudices.