Hi, my name is Hannah Louise. I hope you are having a good day while reading my blog.
Today I want to discuss the topic of challenging teachers and students about their attitudes towards those who are disabled or have special educational needs.
I know most people my age and below think that school is boring and say “why do we have to go to school?”, however education is a powerful tool that young people can use to achieve amazing things, reach goals and change their future. Therefore it is vital that we all attend school (even if it means getting up early… I know the struggle!). However on a more serious note, this can be a daunting experience; especially if the school you are at doesn’t understand you and your disability, or does not meet your needs.
My experience of the later years of primary school was an example of this. I have Autism (Asperger’s) and high anxiety as part of my condition. I was so scared of going to school, I would not be able to sleep and would have panic attacks every Sunday night. I was bullied and excluded by some of my peers, partly due to my condition. It got to the point where I would have to come home from school every dinner, as I felt that I could not stay there. In breaks, I would lock myself in the toilets or sit in the corner of the classroom. However, this was not because the school failed to inform other students about my condition, as they did tell the others in my class after I was diagnosed. Rather, it was due to the attitudes of students and not allowing their beliefs to be challenged. Most teachers had an awareness of disabilities and took them into consideration; however there was a handful of teachers who were not as considerate of my needs, and taught me and treated me as if I were just another mainstream student. This was not helpful, and I believe that this prevented me from having an enjoyable experience at primary school.
I hold the opinion that school should be a place that children want to go and that they should love the time that they spend there. Children, both mainstream and disabled, should not be worried about going to school because of other students’ and teachers’ lack of understanding and prejudiced views.
96% of parents of children with SEN and disabilities said their child had been bullied, with 85% stating they believed that bullying was linked to their child’s disability and their special educational needs.*
Don’t you feel we should do something about this? Isn’t this outrageous?
Now, I am a year 13 student and the secondary school I have been at for the last 6 years has been wonderful; one of the best experiences of my life. This is due to the kind and understanding teachers, who are all trained to deal with my condition and other disabilities as part of teacher training and due to the fact that my school has an inbuilt Autism unit. Teachers within my school understand the importance of pastoral care and are not just focused on the academic aspects of our lives. This is an example of the feeling of strength and belonging which comes from teachers having positive attitudes. This emotional support has helped me to sit both my GCSEs and the first year of my A levels and come out with great grades. However, even though the students in my school do not discriminate towards those with disabilities, some students do not understand the condition or other disabilities.
From my previous experiences of students not being aware of disabilities, I believe that they should be informed (maybe through tutor periods or even PSHE) about different disabilities and how they can affect the individual. This would allow for a more understanding and aware society in the future. I believe it is vital that disability and special educational needs training should be compulsory, as it would allow for a much more inclusive classroom and an emphasis on acceptance.
Also, it is the case that due to getting older, sometimes people with disabilities and special educational needs receive less support than they used to. At the moment I have weekly counselling and it is really helpful, however in the past it has felt like the extra help and support I received diminished as I got older, and I was not seen as a priority. The number of students, with or without disabilities, who are in need of this support due to a rise in mental health illnesses and awareness must be taken into account. Many of my friends from around the country with similar conditions also believe this. As we get older we do not lose our disabilities; with the heightened stress of exams, it is vital that we receive the same or increasing amounts of support from non-teaching staff such as school councillors. In the past, even though I did not see the councillor as often, when I did the support was amazing. It is not the fault of schools and higher education institutions! Governments should increase their funding for pastoral support in schools nationwide. I know it is not as simple as just a quick decision, but I will leave you with the idea that if you help and support those with mental health issues now, then when these children become adults, less money will be needed to be invested in them.
To sum up, I have had detrimental experiences at school and extraordinary experiences at secondary school; the extraordinary ones have occurred due to my disability being understood by teachers and friends, and high quality pastoral support being present.
Inclusive education is the best education. Many people believe that schools are society in miniature and therefore, if we provide a supportive, equal and empathetic school society now, we should therefore produce this society in the future.
I hope you enjoyed my blog and agree to stand up for inclusive education.
Thanks for reading and don’t forget: a little progress and change each day leads to big results. You can help this by showing your support for the issues I have talked about.
Thanks again for reading,
Hannah Louise Stringfellow
*Anti-Bullying Alliance and Contact A Family, (2011) Bullying of children with disabilities and Special Educational Needs in schools: briefing paper for parents on the views and experiences of other parents, carers and families, p. 2.