Is mainstream primary policy just buzzword bingo?

autism classroom

CUTS: life is becoming more difficult for families with disabilities. Many parents struggle to cope just because of the impact of cuts

by Sandra Webster, SSP national co-spokesperson Glasgow City Council are the latest local authority to push forward the aims of “propensity to mainstream” for children entering primary schools. This means no child entering primary one except with extremely complex needs this year will have access to specialist provision. Instead they will have to attend mainstream primary for six to eight weeks before a decision is made. They are following in the footsteps of other local authorities but is this about equality or saving money? Don’t get me wrong, I believe children with disabilities should have access to attend their local primary. Children learn from each other about what being different means and acceptance of others.

For some children though, they need the extra support, and the additional support for learning that school brings, which means smaller classes and a curriculum designed to meet their needs.

No parent wants to send their child to specialist provision. Many parents now are going through hell wondering how their child will cope in a class of 30. A decision to attend mainstream should also mean that there is funding to support children.

Alongside the cuts that are hitting hard are the cuts to support in school. Classrooms assistants and specialist classroom support are being cut back on, leaving children to sink or swim. There is also lack of support in the playground or at meal times. This lack of support is just setting children up to fail.

Michael is a single parent from Glasgow who has been told his son will have to attend mainstream, starting primary one in August. This is despite his son having autism and being non-verbal.

He has an assistant to help him one-to-one in his nursery. He has been refused specialist provision and told his child will have to attend mainstream for six to eight weeks before being assessed. Michael said:

“I am worried sick about how he will cope. He finds change difficult enough. The thought of him being in a class of 30 worries me. I know he won’t help. He has one-to-one in nursery. How is he going to manage in mainstream? This is madness.”

Michael is not alone in his concerns. With more and more cuts, life is becoming more difficult for families with disabilities. Often tension in school has an impact on home life. Many parents struggle to cope just because of the impact of cuts.

This is ironic shortly after the Scottish Government announced they may fine councils for children from poorer backgrounds not achieving as much as their more affluent peers.

How will this encourage teaching staff to choose to teach in schools in areas of deprivation, fining authorities instead of putting support directly into schools where support and mentor ship is most needed?

However, it is all about the money. Mainstreaming should not be one selection but a good choice when a child can not only survive but thrive and do well.

For some children, mainstream is not the answer. If I had a magic wand, I would ensure there were enough funds for every child to attend their local school. The reality though is if the will is there the financial support is not.

“Propensity to mainstream” is a great ambition as well as being buzzword bingo.

The Scottish Government have to ensure that funds are spent on children to support them in mainstream. My advice for Glasgow City Council? Many parents will be calling you out on this policy.

First they came for adults with disabilities, now the children. People are becoming more angry. Not a good idea in the run-up to a general election.

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