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By The Cynical Tendency
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Another Loss

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From time to time there is an obituary which triggers memories of the past. You never quite know who might in the lists and how far the reports will tell you about how and what they did or why. There are occasions when there is the “I was there” factor, especially in sports when in the crowd. Sometimes there is something more serious.

Mary Warnockis a a person that I recall in relation to her major report on Special Education for children in 1978. She also was involved in other reports, notably on ethics, as well as having a heavy academic schedule. She could cut bad argument to ribbons in the nicest possible way. The link is to The Guardian obituary.

After the two major reorganisations of the early 1970′s, Local Government and Health, the new authorities were faced with stringent central government financial restrictions as well as having to deal with all the serious problems left behind by the former ones. In many parts of the country for years small entities, often inefficient and limited in vision.

In the past had been that some local authorities and the local medical services saw themselves almost on different planets with the others as intruding aliens. Across the country there were local authorities and health authorities who failed to work together in services for the handicapped and disabled.

But there was one place, along with some others, which was taking effective action. It was the Inner London Education Authority, the ILEA, which existed from 1965 to 1990. The Warnock Report did not invent joint action and thinking, or for that matter statements, some places already had them in one form or another.

See this article from 2008 again in the Guardian giving a short summary of the work it did. For special education it was allied to and worked with some regional committees for this with an interchange of ideas and experience. It was needed, because things were going to have to change, politics and admin’ or no politics and admin.

By the 1960′s research, developments in medical practice over a wide field had meant many born with severe problems were now surviving, not for days or weeks, but for years and decades. Also, the 1944 Education Act was quite clear. Any child over five would be educated, how etc. was a matter for the local authorities.

For those with problems this came to mean at first special schools to which the children would be transported and serving a wide area. It was expensive but had to be done in a world of large classes in ordinary schools, in old buildings and limited facilities. But by the 1970′s the drive to build new schools, expansion of teacher training etc. had changed this.

At the same time the rate of births dropped meaning many schools now having space to spare. The parents of the handicapped had become more organised and had come to dislike the long journeys, long hours etc. involved in special schools some of which served very wide areas. Those who in effect lost their children to residential schools would argue that the cost to the authority could be spent in other ways.

If the local school could be provided with the staff, teaching and non teaching facilities, if only on a small scale the handicapped could be taught there and with ordinary children. They in turn would become used to the handicapped who would no longer live in another separate world.

Forty years on from this we are again living in another world. Only we seem less  likely to come up with answers.


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