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Learning At Their Own Pace- Thanks To Mum

March 6, 2009

Any DisAbled child who wishes for a mainstream education instantly has my full support. Anyone who knows anything about Disability Rights knows all about the battles that these children and their parents constantly face. Today, though, I have learnt, thanks to Saera Carter, that DisAbled children and their parents can face just as much of a battle with the authorities when they wish for a special education which meets their needs, but is not usually provided by their local authority.

 

Two years ago, Ms Carter got funding from her local education authority in Buckinghamshire for a specialized primary school place for her son Joshua, who uses a wheelchair and crutches. He has a very rare condition, Glucose Transporter 1 Deficiency Syndrome, which was first thought to be Cerebral Palsy.

 

Now, this very special and inspirational mother has gone one step further. She has persuaded her local education authority to set up a whole new unit so that Joshua, now 14, and three of his friends can continue to use their specialized education system- known as Conductive Education- to access an appropriate secondary school curriculum.  In short, she has rewritten what’s on offer for her son, his friends and others who will use this education system in future. Thanks to her hard work, Joshua and his classmates are now enjoying their first year at this unit with familiar teachers from the Pace Centre in Aylesbury, where they spent their primary school years. The unit has been built in free space at a local special school, Heritage House School in Chesham, where pupils have severe learning difficulties. Although the unit is separate from the school, the boys join in with school assemblies and events.

 

The Pace Centre did not previously provide secondary level education, and the Carters’ local special school heads agreed, after seeing Pace in action, that they could provide nothing similar. So Ms Carter pointed out to her local education authority that setting up a special Pace unit would be cheaper than funding boarding school places for Joshua and his friends. She says: Pace was willing to consider doing something at secondary level and we ended up spending two years talking together about how it could happen. The big question was finding the right place. Pace could see the possibilities but they didn’t want the wrong environment.

 

Eventually an education officer within the authority- for whom Ms Carter has nothing but praise – supported her in her battle. With his support, the authority agreed to build the unit. And, says Ms Carter, once the decision was made everything got sorted out.

 

However, this is not a perfect solution. Joshua and his three friends have better cognitive abilities than most of the pupils at the main school. They are also more physically disabled than most of them. But Suzanne Pennington, the school’s head, says: These boys are part of our community, they join us for assembly and lunch, and we have a good working relationship with Pace. We share the same basic positive philosophy. It’s great partnership working, creative and mutually beneficial.

 

The education authority is also happy. Janet Sparrow, divisional manager for access and inclusion. says that it is a positive example of partnership between the maintained and private sector – and that the feedback has been good.

The Conductive Education system meets the boys’ physical needs as well as their educational ones. They are helped to move daily and to prevent deterioration in muscle tone and functional abilities.  They face many new challenges, and independence is always encouraged.  Laura Routledge, a Pace physiotherapist, says the emphasis in the unit is always on what we can do, not what we can’t. Nor do we talk about disability.

The school environment is hilly, so it challenges the boys’ physical abilities. And, because Pace doesn’t have a secondary curriculum yet, Ms Carter says: We aren’t picking up a programme and following it blindly. We’re creating our own, and it’s a lot of work for all the staff.

 

Ms Carter hopes that the boys will be able to stay at Heritage House until the age of 19. The school is now an official supplier of Conductive Education.

 

And she faces another challenge- to persuade special boarding schools to use a Pace-style routine, so that the boys can start to go away from home for short periods of time to improve their independence.

 

I’m truly inspired by this story, which just proves what I’ve always known. Education Authorities should listen to parents more often, because they know better than anyone what’s best for their own children.   

 

This post is part of the Inclusion Rules! debate at Same Difference.

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