Southview School / Special needs education

26th July 2006

Last week I had the pleasure of visiting Southview School, a day Special School in Witham for physically and neurologically impaired pupils, to open their new building.

Many of the new rooms have the fantastic potential of offering severely disabled children more control over their own needs by allowing them to make use of voice operated technology, in much the same manner as scientist Stephen Hawkins.

But, sadly, at the end of March this year the Government ended the 'Communication Aids Project', an initiative designed to help disabled children by providing them with similar voice operated equipment.

Since 2002 the project has invested more that £20 million in equipment which has benefited over 4500 children. Much of the equipment that has been provided is expensive and increasingly difficult to secure.

Schools for children with special educational needs, like Southview School and the Edith Borthwick school in Braintree, are increasingly strapped for cash. The withdrawal of a vital funding initiative by the Government is just one example of the many challenges faced by teachers who are trying to balance the books.

Back in January I joined over 100 MPs who called on the Government to end the lottery affecting those who need access to communication equipment by giving them a statutory right to communication equipment.

The importance of communication cannot be underestimated. The Communication Aids Project has made a difference to the lives of thousands of children with communication difficulties, but this is only the tip of the iceberg.

Special schools cater for some of the most vulnerable people in our society. We must invest in schools like Southview which work so hard to help children to overcome the many additional challenges that they will face in life.

Children with special needs are not a homogenous group - they have different skills and different needs just like everyone else. And, just like everyone else, they need support which is tailored to meet those needs.

Music teaching is just one example of a service which is under threat at Southview because of inadequate funding. But music can help children communicate and give them enjoyment, sometimes despite the most severe disabilities - music is magic for children with disabilities.

However, Deputy Headteacher Paul Ellis remains optimistic: "With funding our new building can become a centre for excellence, not just for our students but for the wider community." From what I saw last week I have no doubt about that. What do you think?

For further information on Southview School go to http://www.southview.essex.sch.uk/ "

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