You’re Still Here: Duh! Special needs require specialist resources

The current government has set up a committee to look into the teaching and learning of children with special needs, who are being included for the first time in mainstream classrooms. The committee will find out how things are and recommend best practice.

A disastrous concession
A quick history lesson: in April 2013, the negotiations between the teaching unions and the employers (the municipalities) broke down before they started. The two issues that stalled the talks were a reduction in the timetable for teachers over a certain age and the removal of the upper limit on lessons taught in a week. Since the employers did not want to negotiate on these points, talks broke down and there was a lock-out for nearly a month.

The government stepped in and solved the dispute by giving the employers all of their demands and giving one concession to the teachers: they would only ever have to work their 37.5-hour working week in regular working hours.

This ‘concession’ has been disastrous in practice. Teaching is not a 9-5 job and a lot of schools have had to think of local solutions to the problem the politicians invented. This is, frankly, a complete waste of valuable time.

Do more with less
The government were keen for all the employers’ demands to go through because they were central to their plans for what they branded ‘school improvement’. Its plan, if I understand it correctly, was to increase student-teacher contact time without having to pay extra and to shut down special needs provisions for all but the most disabled children.

There were no plans for teachers to have extra training for special needs, nor for making the most of increased lesson time. You may recognise this plan as ‘Do more with less’.

Now the new administration is finally looking at the problem and the cynic in me does not expect for the committee to recommend increased education spending.

I am a teacher and I am passionate about inclusion. I believe that most children can thrive in a classroom with a diversity of talent, ability, interests and needs. What frustrates me is how Denmark has grabbed hold of the idea and twisted it into a way of saving money.

Include properly!
Proper inclusion necessarily means more lesson planning. If you have students who have visual impairments, you make your resources legible. The same goes for any other disability. You adapt your planning to fit where your students are. This takes a lot of time, and planning time was one of the things politicians did not value enough to pay for.

Proper inclusion means more training and education for teachers. If someone told you that a new girl in your class has Turner syndrome, would you know how to translate that information into better teaching for her?

Proper inclusion means having a team of specialists available. Speech therapists, counsellors, educational psychologists, special educational needs co-ordinators and language support are essential. Those specialists are spread out and still under-resourced.

The politicians of Denmark need to be honest so that voters can decide. Do they care about raising standards or do they care about saving money? They cannot do both.