Mainstream schools can’t manage special needs pupils, say teachers

By Tony Halpin
Union calls for an end to the policy of inclusion after a study suggests that it harms all children

THE policy of educating children with special needs in mainstream schools has failed and must be changed immediately, the country’s biggest teaching union said yesterday.

The National Union of Teachers dramatically reversed decades of support for “inclusion” and demanded a halt to the closure of special schools. It called on the Government to carry out “an urgent review of inclusion in policy and practice”.

The union issued a report by academics at Cambridge University, which suggested that inclusion was harming children with special needs, undermining the education of others and leaving teachers exhausted as they struggled to cope with severe behavioural and medical conditions.

John MacBeath, one of the authors, described inclusion “as a form of abuse” for some children, who were placed in “totally inappropriate” schools where they inevitably failed.

Original source,

Download full story here.

Read the full report and related material.

Tax breaks for children’s sport programs, why not arts as well?

The Steven Harper government has introduced tax credits for parents who shell out money to enable their kids to play sports. Some parents have started an on-line petition asking that similar recognition be given parents whose children participate in the arts.

To: Government of Canada

The decision by the Government of Canada in its most recent budget to give a tax credit to the parents of children taking part in organized sports (the so-called “soccer mom” credit) is fundamentally unfair. It provides a subsidy to one group of citizens by making a value judgement about the activities in which they choose to involve their children.

The implicit assumption is that involvement in traditional sports has a higher value than taking piano or dance lessons, taking classes in the visual and dramatic arts, singing in a youth choir or taking part in debating or chess clubs. This is unsupportable in fact and undemocratic in its effects. Parents who choose to spend their money on developing the aesthetic, cultural and artistic gifts of their children should not be discriminated against in favour of parents who choose to support their childrens’ athletic abilities.

Therefore, the undersigned petition the government to reconsider its announced policy and to extend the tax credit to all children and to any activity in which parents enroll their children for their mental, artistic or physical well-being.


Sign petition here!Media discussions of the tac credit issue

CBC Reality Check

CBC Coverage of the election promise

CTV Budget coverage

CUPE budget analysis

Sports Matter Blog

CMAJ Canada’s Health Journal on the budget on the budget and the alternative budget

“ABU GHRAIB – COMING TO A SCHOOL HOUSE NEAR YOU”: NYS Ed. Dept. Seeks Approval for Schools to Electric Shock Disabled Students”

The Special Education Muckraker:

“ABU GHRAIB – COMING TO A SCHOOL HOUSE NEAR YOU” NYS Ed. Dept. Seeks Approval for Schools to Electric Shock Disabled Students”

To sum things up in a nutshell, as part of a NYS govt. move to end out of state placements for exceptionally severely disabled kids, the NYS Education Department is moving to allow the use of all aversives, including electric shock as aversives on disabled kids – in all NYS schools and all publicly-operated or publicly-funded programs; in all state-approved private schools; in all residential schools. Disabled kids subject to family/juvenile court placements will come under this proposal, too. At this time, there is no legal or regulatory authorization for the use of painful aversives in any NYS school, public or private, state-approved or not. The way the proposal is written, it will – literally – allow any little local district to set up its own committee of “experts” – “experts” being completely undefined – and approve the district using any aversive it wants. It will protect districts, schools, programs, IEA’s, from being sued for unconstitutional cruel and inhumane treatment of disabled kids, which appears to be what this proposal is designed to allow. It is simply cruel and inhumane, period. The proposal to allow this abuse is breathtaking in its scope and virtually unlimited in what it will permit.

Full story on “Where the Blog has No Name.”

VSB Advocacy on the agenda for renwal, May 23rd, 2006

Event: Committee 1 of the VSB
Date: Tuesday, May,23, 2006
Time: 5:30 pm
Place: Room 110, VSB,

Tuesday, May 23 at 5:30 pm in Room 110 of the VSB, the Board of Trustees of the Vancouver School Board will debate a motion on renewed advocacy on behalf of the city’s 50,000 kids. Former VSB Trusttee, Noel Herron, explains why this meeting is of critical importance to the health of public education in Vancouver schools.

In the most complex and diverse school system in this province (indeed in any school district in BC) advocacy is a key and crucial leadership component. The VSB, as a district has literally more of everything –inner city, gifted ,ESL, special education, special needs, urban Aboriginal students, alternative programs at the secondary level, and a host of other programs and services at both elementary and secondary levels.

Over the past four decades the VSB has pioneered programs and services(under boards of varying political persuasions ) that have had a very positive, province-wide, impact. The following are only two examples: lobbying in cooperation with parents’ groups for seismic upgrading of all schools over a10 year period, and; the introduction of inner city programs for disadvantaged kids in 1992. Year after year, the inexorable erosion of many of these programs and services due to financial shortfalls by successive provincial governments.

Currently, the board is faced with the renewal of an activist, ongoing ,and vital advocacy program, started by the previous board, in order to obtain both recognition and funding for its numerous and diverse services. This will be debated May 23 at the first meeting of Committee 1 of the VSB–the only time this premier, coordinating, committee has met in the 7 months since the board’s election last November– and it will determine the direction and strategies that the current board will use and take in the two and a half years of its remaining mandate.

School trustees, in my book, are elected to speak out on behalf of their constituencies and to maintain unrelenting pressure on any government in Victoria, no matter what its political persuasion, in order to obtain the support and resources needed.

Let me be very blunt, any trustee that is willing to throw up his or her hands, with a what-can-we-do-attitude, and accept a supplicant funding role when faced with constant downloading by Victoria is not honouring the wishes of the students or parents they have been elected to represent. Letters of protest are fine, and should be used, but they form only a part of a broadly-based public positions and effective advocacy strategies of a comprehensive advocacy program. Leadership and advocacy should be made of sterner stuff especially when the educational futures of thousands of kids are at stake. That’s why Tuesday evening’s meeting of the VSB is important in the evolution of the city’s public education system.

by Noel Herron

Northwest Regional Literacy Forum

Educators from Northwest BC gathered in Prince Rupert to share the results of Literacy Grant initiatives. Hosted by School District #52 (Prince Rupert), the forum involved teachers and administrators from Coast Mountain (Terrace, Kitimat, and the Hazeltons), Haida Gwaii, and Nisga’a school districts.

It was inspiring to see the wide range of activities in support of literacy that teachers are engaged in through the northwest of BC. Common to all of the presentations was a focus on differentiated curriculum and integrating First Nations content and approaches across the curriculum. Each of the teacher presentations reminded me of the level of dedication, concern, and passion that our teachers demonstrate on a day to day basis as they conduct the job of teaching and caring for our children. The presentations ranged from specific examples of literacy projects in classrooms to district wide programmes. Each presentation highlighted specific examples of what has worked. Useful resources and techniques were described that could have important implications across the public school system.

Four key themes or approaches stood out for me:

  • Effectiveness of additional preparation time.
  • Collaboration with other teachers.
  • Bringing other adults (parents, elders, community members) into the classroom.
  • Targeted resources that are ‘leveled’ (i.e. grouped by grade levels) and First Nations content.

For me the presentations reinforced the poverty of simplistic measures used by agencies such as the Fraser Institute in it’s report card on schools. These sorts of quantitative measures often inflict harm through generalization and their overemphasis of standardized tests. There are many other aspects of schools and teaching that are more effective indicators of learning; but these indicators are more complex and do not lend themselves easily to rank ordering.

For example, Prince Rupert School District has one of the most effective First Nations education resource centers in BC. The district office has produced a great deal of provincially and nationally recognized curriculum and teaching resources. In addition, the district itself has made huge strides in working with First Nations communities to ensure that the entire curriculum has relevance and meaning for all students.

The presentation of Prince Rupert teachers highlighted the ways in which a small amount of additional resources can make a significant difference. Taking the grants that have been provided under the literacy grant programme teachers in Prince Rupert and throughout the northwest have been able to effectively reduce class sizes and draw upon the expertise of their colleagues and community members to develop and deliver the sort of education that should be common place in our schools. They did this through collaborative team teaching, hiring TOCs and, in one case a retired teacher to add more adults to the classroom in order to provide more direct attention to small groups of students.

In addition the literacy grant funds made it possible to increase in-service and opportunities for classroom teachers to collaborate within their schools and more generally across their district. The collaborative aspect was reflected not simply in the classroom activities but in the nature of the presentations themselves which were exemplary collaborative activities.

The literacy forum demonstrated to me that effective teaching is possible when committed individuals are empowered and encouraged to find on-the-ground solutions. We need be cautious, however. Simply exhorting teachers –as high ranking government officials and other prominent education partners are wont to do- is not enough. To do the job that they are asked to do, teachers require adequate resources, time, and support. I left the forum amazed at what this small group of teachers had done with such limited funds and wondered what they could do if we were to actually fund the real costs of our public educaution system.

on location in Prince Rupert

The Fraser Institure Comes to Town: on location in Prince Rupert

The Fraser Institute report card has hit the streets and throughout BC community members are scanning the list to see where they ranked. Schools in Prince Rupert have faired very poorly from the Fraser institute report. Lead author, Peter Cowley came to town last night to defend his report card.

The issue is covered by a Prince Rupert blog, A town called Podunk.

Thursday’s Prince Rupert Daily News covers the visit of Peter Cowley(Download fultext version here.). As reported in the Daily News Crowley repeated the same arguments that the F.I. uses in every case -competition is good.

“The idea of rating as an incentive (from) positive competition is something we accept in virtually every other area of society.”

To paraphrase Mr. Cowley it would seem that according to the F.I. excellence comes through competition. The fact that the F.I. rankings do not take into account socio-economic factors is irrelevant. Furthermore, the F.I. would appear to argue that only through the public humiliation of being ranked low enough will failing districts and schools finally shape up. It’s a harsh dog-eat-dog vision of education and one that might be appropriate for warfare but seems far removed from the reality of progressive and effective education.

Read the Daily News article on the Fraser Institute report. Download file here.

Read the Prince Rupert School District press release on the F.I. report. Download file

on location in Prince Rupert

Family and Schools Working Together

Families and schools working together: A study of parents’ and teachers’ perceptions of parental involvement in education in two Fredericton, New Brunswick, middle schools
by Caines, Paul Vernon, M.Ed., The University of New Brunswick (Canada), 2000, 155 pages

Newspapers, magazines, and governments continually describe and demand increased family participation in the education of their children as a universal remedy for many educational dilemmas. In fact, much research has established a clear link between family involvement in education and student achievement. Despite this recognized value, we seldom hear about the daily problems associated with involving parents in the educational process. The purpose of this study was to explore how parents are currently involved in their children’s education and elicit the attitudes and perceptions of both parents and teachers concerning what constitutes parental involvement in education. 1219 parents and 68 teachers were surveyed at two middle schools in Fredericton, New Brunswick, about parental involvement in education. Data were gathered using parent and teacher questionnaires adapted from the work of Joyce Epstein of Johns Hopkins University. In addition, focus group interviews were used to confirm and extend the quantitative to confirm and extend the quantitative findings.

This research also serves as an effective guide for targeting specific areas where intervention is needed to improve parental involvement in their children’s education.

See also the article by the same author in Principals Online

Safe Schools Act

Here is the letter in support of the Safe Schools Act (download letter here) approved by VSB trustees at the VSB Education Committee III yesterday afternoon, as per the recommendation from the Pride Advisory Committee. It has been sent out to MLAs and other school districts across the province.

Update: May 12, 2006 Vancouver DPAC passes motion in support of Safe Schools Act at its May 11th executive meeting and calls upon the provincial government to ensure this Private Members Bill passes through the house during this session.

Please ask your associations if they would consider sending a letter of support in favour of the Safe Schools Act as well before the end of this session of the Legislature.