Fostering a Global Exchange of Ideas and Information
National Chairs Report: Reporting from the UK!
By Bronwen Hewitt
(Published in the February 2014 issue of Annuntiatus)
In July of last year, I attended the IASE Biennial International Conference in Vancouver along with one of my Trustees, Judith Waterfield. It was my first time as a delegate and I was impressed by the dynamic and grassroots approach of the association. I met many inspirational people and enjoyed sharing the work of my organization, the Dame Hannah Rogers Trust or ‘Hannahs, as it is now known. Vancouver was such a wonderful venue!
Prior to attending the conference, I had been asked to represent IASE in the role of a National Chair for the UK for IASE and I had accepted this opportunity. Whilst talking to a group of conference attendees, we decided that there were potential exciting opportunities that should be explored further, such as:
• Excellent contacts for the future;
• Potential for joint research;
• Opportunities to conduct conferences and/or workshops highlighting projects and/or activities in the UK;
• Opportunities to share advice and support with centers in Malawi and Tanzania and other volunteer projects for our therapists.
In December, as a result of these connections and in my role as a National Chair I welcomed a group to my organization, the Dame Hannah Rogers Trust or “Hannahs”, located in Devon, England. This covered workshops and networking with a variety of professionals, a reception with the University of Plymouth, meeting with the Chief Executive of the National Association of Special Education (NASS) in London and a backstage tour of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory hosted by one of its stars, Nigel Planer. We, of course, took the opportunity to introduce our guests to a little sightseeing!
Mary Gale Budzisz had the opportunity to talk about volunteer projects she so tirelessly supports and we now look forward to more detail to enable us to send a therapist or two over and create a mutually beneficial program. Sally Mohamedali came and was able to showcase her amazing work in Tanzania. Kevin Spencer amazed us all with his magic and illusion skills, keeping us forever entertained but also moved deeply by the benefits of this approach.
Kathy Johnson, IASE member, was unable to come at the last moment, but is hoping to visit soon. Penelope Moon, CEO of A Quiet Place from Liverpool, shared her project for special students in the UK. Anastasia Somoza, a student in London, was also in attendance from her home in the US. You will see from the photograph that we took the opportunity for Anastasia to open our newly completed accessible holiday flat.
In England over the last twenty years, there has been a strong move toward inclusion in education with subsequent closure of special facilities (91 special schools closed by 2005). While in theory this was laudable, the reality has been very different. Full inclusion requires robust resourcing and strong leaderships at national, regional and institutional levels. Consequently, the lack of adequate space, facilities, equipment and staff training led to the policy failing the young people for whom it was created.
Baroness Warnock, the original advocate for inclusion in the UK, said that her policy had failed and left a disastrous legacy (2005). She further stated that the policy had gone too far and that vulnerable children had become isolated in mainstream schools. The crucial themes of participation, entitlement, funding, quality and provision are still challenges 16 years after the government report by Tomlinson (1996) on Inclusive Learning. Confirming this sense of failure of the original goal of inclusive education, the memorial lecture for Professor John Tomlinson in 2006 was entitled “Something happened to it along the way….”. At Dame Hannah Roger’s Trust in the UK, we have looked at inclusion in an entirely different way; thinking carefully where it is appropriate and where it is detrimental for young people.
The European Human Rights Act states that everyone has a right to Education and a Right to Life. Society’s dilemma is ‘what are we educating for and what is a quality of life?’. We work on a simple philosophy of asking ourselves ‘what do we want for our own children and families?’ The answer that is given should be no different for those who have a disability! We also challenge the concept of “Special Need”, so easily linked with neediness when we should be thinking about entitlement and individual rights! We all need adjustments made for us and hope that people see our strengths and talents, and support our aspirations; experiences of people with disabilities should be no different. Our social model of disability is aptly captured by Len Barton (2002)… ”we were concerned with developing an approach to special education in which social interest rather than individual differences and deficits were to be a fundamental focus of analysis.” In developing a model, we have challenged the reductionist model of deficit philosophy. We work toward a social model of inclusion where exclusion and inequality are not tolerated and the collective engagement of people with disabilities is fundamental in all aspects of our services and ventures. Through this model “the non-disabled world can be provided with an alternative and positive view of disability” (Barton 2002).