Disability in Education
Choosing the best school for your child is one of the biggest decisions a parent/guardian has to make. Add to that the responsibility of finding a school that is willing to provide the necessary services and accessible facilities that child will need if they have a disability. These are the things parents/guardians of children with disabilities have to consider on a daily basis, alongside the factor of their child’s academic and social ability.
However, how much of a say in this decision does the child have, if they are, in theory, old enough to make their own decisions about important events in their lives including their education. Does the factor of their child having a disability, cloud a parent/guardians’ judgement when they are deciding whether or not to send a child to a mainstream or special school?
Research has shown that, until the 1950’s, it was recommended by the State that people with all types and varying levels of disability were placed in services such as the St Vincent’s Home for Mentally Defective Children. This was due to a report which was published in 1936 which stated that children with special needs were not to be educated alongside those who did not have a disability because, it claimed, it was “damaging” to the education of those able bodied children.
Thankfully though, in the decades that followed, things began to change for the better, and by the mid-eighties the idea of integrating children with disabilities into mainstream schools started to immerge and in 1993 a report was published that recognised that the majority of parents of special needs children, felt that these children should be educated in a mainstream school. This report was known as the SERC report. Nevertheless, issues around educating children with special needs still arose in the early 1990’s and 2000’s.
With all this in mind, I decided to interview students with disabilities who attended both mainstream and special schools to see if anything had changed over the last few decades in terms of perceptions and attitudes towards them in the education system. I was amazed at what I heard. The people that I spoke to who had attended special schools told me that they were only placed into special schools because they were told they would be more suited to that form of education due to their disability, even if their disability did not affect their academic ability. However they also told me that since they finished attending those schools, things have improved in many ways. In saying that, they told me that if they had been placed in mainstream education, they would have been able to study a range of different subjects that were not available within the special education system.
Those that I spoke to who had attended mainstream schools, told me that they were placed into that form of education because, at the time, their parents felt that their disability did not affect their academic ability. Therefore it was decided that, with the help of the appropriate equipment and services provided by the Education Department, their child deserved the chance to receive mainstream education, just like any of their fellow able bodied students. However, in some cases, it was the Education Department who felt that students with disabilities were more suited to special education, even with the appropriate equipment and services to help them with their education. This however, was only dependant on where that student would be attending school and in what area.
After speaking with the different students about their experiences in both mainstream and special schools, I decided to research this topic from the point of view of the State, to see what laws were in place to provide parents/guardian with the appropriate information that could help them make one of the most important decisions of their child’s life. When I researched into what the laws in Ireland were in relation to educating children with disabilities within mainstream and special schools, I was shocked to discover that, although the Education Act was established in 2000, it did not give any definition into what the “certain minimum education” for students should be an so therefore, no actual legislation or official policy put in place which would suggest to me, that it was up to both the parent/guardian and the school to decide what school a student should/ should not attend.
Speaking as a person with a disability who has always received mainstream education and who only had knowledge of special schools through hearing stories of other people who attended them, I couldn’t help but feel that although the education system has improved, there still needs to be more done to help students with disability to interact with, not only other students with disabilities, but also students who do not have any form of disability. I hope that whoever reads this article will help to provide a service where students with various abilities can come together and show off those abilities to one another rather than being separated into different services due to their “lack of abilities.”