Recently, I watched a documentary on BBC 2 called A Special School, which followed a special school in Penarth, just outside Cardiff. It was really interesting because it showed life in a special school from the point of view of the parents, staff and pupils.
The school, Ysgol Y Deri, opened 5 years ago and is one of Britain’s biggest schools. They have got everything to make the children’s lives comfortable and happy. For example, they have their own salon, and a hairdresser comes in every week to cut the hair of the children who have autism, as going to hairdresser’s can be a scary experience. They don’t like to be touched, so the hairdresser builds up trust with the child by just cutting one strand of hair to start.
They do many other activities too, such as going to the beach and having surfing lessons in the summer and indoor surfing in the winter at Cardiff indoor centre. Also, as many of the children travel up to an hour to get to school, they start the day with a boot camp to energise the children and get them ready to start the day.
It is a really brilliant documentary and I recommend you watch it. In a way, it makes me sad, because I never really accepted there are people with Cerebral Palsy who are worse off than me. I mean that it really upsets me to see people doing worse than me. I’m not meant to be walking; I’m meant to be in a wheelchair, but I managed to walk when I was about 5 and not everyone is that lucky. I still borrow a wheelchair when I go to Lourdes, as I get really tired with long distance walking and can’t stand for a long time.
With the schools we work with on the project, looking back at the last 50 years, it makes you think how much school life has changed, the opportunities with better transport, equipment, for going to on exciting school trips etc. Although some of them say that they don’t take the children out as much now because of all the paperwork involved. Going back to the programme for a second, I was really amazed at them taking a group of children for a week to an activity centre, in Exmoor and seeing someone in a wheelchair abseil down a cliff. This just shows that there are no boundaries, you can achieve anything, and I hope it gives others inspiration.
All things are made possible in special school. I feel that you have far more fun than you do in a mainstream school, because you are more accepted and people understand if you can’t do something and don’t bully you for getting upset.
I think special schools are brilliant because they give the students the confidence and ability to go out into the world and think “I can do this” without being told “no you can’t”.
I see that confidence shine through with the students we work with. It’s great to see how much they have grown and achieved since being on this project and that’s thanks to their hard work and the staff of the schools for letting them be a part of the project.
Special schools have changed a lot over the last 50 years, and they keep changing with the times to enable everyone, regardless of disability, to have a fun, safe learning environment.