Should SEN children be enrolled in mainstream schools?
With the right support, SEN children can cope and thrive in a mainstream school. Source: Shutterstock

Should children with special educational needs (SEN) enroll in mainstream schools? That’s a question many parents with SEN kids grapple with.

On the one hand, parents want their child to grow alongside their non-disabled peers and be a part of the mainstream community.

On the other, many valid concerns might stop them, such as whether the school can accommodate a SEN child, and whether their child can not only cope but thrive in a mainstream school environment.   

The general consensus is that every child has the right to be formally educated, whether individually or together with others, including children with SEN, notes the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

Additionally, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) notes that inclusive and fair societies start with inclusive education systems in which all students are welcomed, regardless of their educational need, among other things. UNESCO’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4 on education also emphasises inclusion and equity as the foundation for quality education.

Inclusive education systems already exist in several countries, including in Australia, Japan, and Saudi Arabia, among others.

One World Health Organisation (WHO) report says, “Belgium and Germany rely heavily on special schools in which children with special needs are separated from their peers. Cyprus, Lithuania, Malta, Norway, and Portugal appear to include the majority of their students in regular classes with their same-age peers.”

It is clear that there is a move towards inclusive schools in various countries, indicating significant progress in the global goal of creating learning environments that are conducive for children of all abilities. Towards that end, however, there are issues that need addressing.

And should parents decide to take that leap for their child, there are factors they must consider and get themselves prepared for.

Speaking to SchoolBag, Dr Mariam Aljunied, an Educational Psychologist at the Ministry of Education in Singapore, said parents can do the following before sending their SEN children to a mainstream school:

  • Consult professionals who have worked closely with their children (e.g. psychologists, developmental paediatricians, early intervention teachers) to ascertain their suitability to attend mainstream schools. Students with severe SEN need long-term intensive specialised support and may thrive better in a special school
  • If a SEN child can attend a mainstream school, parents must prepare them for it by helping them to develop habits like staying seated, paying attention and following instructions from a young age
  • Parents must also prepare the mainstream school for the child, such as having the confidence to share information on their child’s learning needs with the school to ensure they can take the  appropriate steps and provide the necessary support to help the child make the transition into a mainstream setting

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