Friday, 13 March 2009

One size fits all?

Over recent years there has been a shift towards including more and more children in mainstream schools who, in the past, would have been lumped together in 'special' schools. They include children with a range of disabilities, some physical, some mental and some with both. The accepted label for children who learn at a slower rate than average has changed over time. SEN, standing for special educational needs, is the term at the moment.

The severity and complexity of special needs varies from child to child. Some have associated behavioural problems. For others their only issue is that English is not their first language and they have not yet had an opportunity to learn.

I know too little even to formulate an opinion as to whether or not the inclusion of children with learning difficulties is generally a good thing in general. The fulfilling of the potential of the less able must be balanced against the needs of the more able. I have seen the latter looking frustrated and switching off and their boredom in itself foments poor behaviour. I can't help thinking the bright kids are getting a raw deal. The term 'special' is loaded. Aren't all children special and their needs equally worthy of meeting? Does anyone else feel the inclusion policies are driven by a mixture of economics and planning strategy masquerading as political correctness?

So how does SEN inclusion effect the teaching of music? Well it largely depends on four factors:
  • The proportion of SEN children in the group
  • the acuteness of their needs
  • the level of specialist support
  • the way in which the group is used to being managed (class discipline)

I have led mixed ability sessions that all children a class of thirty appear to have enjoyed without bludgeoning them into compliance. (Only a cynic, and I am one, would venture that this may have been done for me before the event.)In each case there was good SEN support and the class culture was very orderly. I will give a more detailed account of the methods and activities I've used in a future post: activities that engage children who find participation in group work very difficult. However, there are limitations to what can be achieved and getting a class involved in rhythm games of any kind is challenging, to say the least, if there are children who physically can't clap unless their support worker is moving their arms. Or who are so heavily medicated, or naturally away with the fairies, that by the time it is their turn to say their name, in a circle of others doing the same, they have completely forgotten what is going on. The great thing about rhythm work is the sense of achieving something as a team, with all the social benefits of boosted self-esteem and mutual respect that come with that.

Dumbing down? There is a whole range of group activities that would be of enormous benefit to the majority of children but that they may well never experience.

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