paulaThis is the Insprie Foundation’s response following comments by Malta Union of Teachers that not all children can be expected to integrate into mainstream classes, and The National Commission for People with a Disability (KNPD) who has insisted that all children, even those with severe impairments, should be included in mainstream classrooms.

 Written by Paula Doumanov MSc OT (UK) – Chief Services Officer – Inspire Foundation

The Inspire Foundation believes that everybody has a right to equality and inclusion. Our mission is to help every person with a disability achieve this.

However, it is impossible to deny that students with disabilities are having had to cope in schools that were not made for them but for the typically developing children.

The concept of inclusion is very much derived from a social model of disability. This tends to view disability as a social construct and places an emphasis on addressing the issues society has with disability.

The United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights also requires that people with disabilities benefit from full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms.

In addition, Article 24 – Education, of the Convention on the Rights of persons with a disability (CRPD) also outlines principles of equality and human rights to ensure that children and youths with a disability receive sound educational, emotional and social development throughout their schooling years.

In principle therefore, KNPD are absolutely right in their position that all children, even those with severe impairments, should be included in mainstream classrooms.  However, the reality is that we are still far away from achieving this.

We first need to carry out a full and in depth gap analysis, mapping out not just all existing entities that currently provide services to children and young people with disabilities, but also the tools, environmental factors, skill and knowledge sets that are required to be able to provide an all-inclusive service.

There are very practical and understandable reasons why teachers and the MUT do not feel that all children can be integrated in mainstream schooling. One of the main reasons is that most do not have the expertise or training to be able to address the multitude of disabilities that they are being presented with.

This unsatisfactory situation in the provision of learning support to students with specific individual educational and learning needs also resulted in the Inclusive and Special Education Review Report of June 2005. The report found that the set up was aggravated by fragmentation of class support between trained and untrained staff. While the Working Group could observe strong commitment among learning support assistants towards statemented students, generally speaking, teaching and teaching support staff who had not benefited from professional training could not reach the same level of achievement as their qualified colleagues.

The report recommended formal training, including on-going in-service training, which needs to be extended to assistant heads, and heads of schools who have not had any formal exposure to the techniques of providing for individuals’ educational needs (IENs). It also recommended that a specialised training module in relation to disability should be provided as part of any formal teacher and LSA training and that it should also include CPD (Continuous professional development) modules. All those who work with people with disabilities, whether as service providers, family or peers, should undergo standardised and accredited training programs. This was further highlighted in the Education for All Special Needs and Inclusive Education in Malta External Audit Report (2014).

sad childThis is not to say that over the years big developments have not been made.  Unfortunately, however, most have been in primary schooling and have not yet been mirrored in secondary schools, which are categorized by a multitude of changes such as a different teacher for each subject. A concrete opportunity to continue learning should be available at all stages of education.  The introduction of subject-specific LSA’s in conjunction with class based LSA’s, will further remove barriers to learning and ensure real inclusion of students with disabilities in regular classrooms. Inspire is already providing disability-specific training to professionals and would also be in a position to provide placements to support the theoretical element.

In addition, professionally trained LSA’s need to be available throughout all school settings that a child with a disability attends.  Summer programmes for example, are crucial for children with disabilities as they ensure continuity of care between one scholastic year and the next, making sure that children although in a different environment, continue their learning and maintain their healthy routines.

A good support system for teachers and LSA’s is also crucial for better inclusion and less disruption for other children in the classroom setting. Worldwide evidence has shown that challenging behaviour in schools continues to be a major obstacle to the education and inclusion of children with disabilities, especially for those with developmental disabilities such as Autism. The task of teaching and caring for such children can be a stressful and isolating experience for both teacher and child, as well as disruptive to the whole school community.  The ‘problem’ is often seen as being ‘within’ the child, with factors such as the environment and relationships disregarded. Consequently the child is stigmatised and the reasons why the child is behaving in such a way are not addressed. Teachers and LSA’s in such situations are subjected to intense levels of stress and sickness is common. Also parents may feel that schools are blaming them and that their child is resented.

Inspire has now embarked on a new project led by Mr. Richard Mills who was an expert member of that NICE committee and Dr. McCreadie, an AT-Autism and Studio 3 consultant. The project entitled Synergy is a model to ensure that best practice gets out quickly to the points were it is needed and that teachers and parents are supported in this process, promoting continuity and consistency leading to stability. This is also highly cost effective as it works using a mentoring approach which has been developed using evidence based principles and is highly personalised to the needs of each child and school. This joint project offers the framework to establish links between the school, Inspire and AT – Autism (no definition, it is a company) thereby ensuring continuity in approaches applied. The teaching aspect of this project reflects the evidence based guidelines on Challenging Behavior in Children and Adults with Learning Disabilities that were published in May 2015 by the UK Government’s approved body, The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). Very positive results have already emerged in countries were it was launched.