Here in Ireland, the government's policy on children with special needs is "mainstreaming". They go to their local school, and have supports in place to meet their special needs. They are close to their home, their family and their friends. They are "integrated" in their local school and local community.
Sounds lovely, doesn't it?
Except that, it doesn't work for some children. And because it's policy, these children are getting a bad deal.
For some, they are the child who is "DIFFERENT", who has no friends, who stands out, who can't fit in, who constantly has an assistant with them, who can't relate to the other kids, who wonders "why am I different?", who gets called names, made fun of, pointed at, who doesn't understand the classwork, who can't do the homework, who falls behind in their work.
None of this is made up, it's stuff that children in my school told me has been their experience of mainstream education. Not all children experience this, but many do, and many stay quiet. It's only when it reaches crisis point that a special school is considered.
I've seen so many children come to our school, looking so stressed and anxious on arrival, you want to reach out, hug them, and tell them that now they're here, everything is going to be ok. They will not be that "different" kid any more, they can relax and know that they are in the right place.
Within a week you would barely recognise their faces. They settle in unbelievably quickly, relax, enjoy their schooldays, begin to understand schoolwork again, make friends. Again, I'm quoting what they have told me, a few months on.
The myth that they will be "close" to their family and friends is often that..a myth. They often don't have friends. They often feel completely isolated.
It breaks my heart that so many children experience this, and that often it is left too late to move them to a special school. Today, I spoke with a mother, and she told me how she didn't want her child to be different, didn't want to send her to a special school, but that she had to put her daughter's needs first. Her daughter has now been in our school for 8 years, and she couldn't be happier. She knows she made the right decision, and she wishes for other parents that they knew how good it can be.
I'm not insinuating that a special school is for all children, or that it solves all problems. But nor do I think that mainstream schools are suitable for all children with special needs. And in these recessionary times, when cutbacks mean that supports are being withdrawn, children are increasingly falling through the net and suffering.
In some cases, a special school is the right place for a child. Sometimes, a child just needs to be where there is expert help, where their peers also have special needs, and where they're not the "different" one. We all deserve the chance to shine.