Special education

I accidentally pressed wrong keys and found myself on Véronique Langlands' comment wall where Heather Ward is asking 'I am a qualified language teacher and am doing an Advanced Diploma in Inclusive Education. I would really like to work with children who have learning difficulties- what system do they use in France-are there special schools ?' the question I refer to is the underlined bit.

I am concerned of course. I study children/childhood and whilst children's rights is central nowadays I have done bits and pieces on special education. Our oldest daughter is Down Syndrome. We spent five years in Wales before we moved here, she went to a normal primary school where she was integrated into her class most of the time and in the SEN unit other times. I became a school governor and took on the link governorship for SEN which put me in close liaison with the teachers, the parents, the education authority and specialists they used and also the children. I learned a great deal.

Here is France our daughter, now 11, has only recently begun to go beyond where she was in Wales aged 7. So my wife, who also studies children, and I began to look at special needs children here. There is a government website that will tell all. It is a psycho-medical model. Effectively, using the heading 'handicap' children whether they have physical mental or developmental issues are treated in one fashion. Thus, if you wish to put it this way, a child who is a potential Stephen Hawking (being seriously physically disabled and in a wheel chair) with all normal intellectual qualities, is highly likely to be lumped together with autistic, ADHD and other less capable children. Our daughter was helped to develop language by using Makaton, we got here and simply met with astonishment. Firstly they had never heard of Makaton and secondly signing is for the deaf alone as far as they are concerned.

So we rejected a 'special school' immediately. In the normal school she is in a CLIS (Classe d'Intégration Scolaire) which is anything but what its name suggests. The 'teacher' proudly told us she had been a photographer, did not do well, so did a one year course and became the CLIS teacher. She is now in her third year there with a couple of weeks extra training in that time. Her pedagogic speciality appears to be shouting at the children, a well known educational tool in Victorian circles. She has support staff most of the time, but they seem to come and go with lapses between. We know other parents and carers (some are temporary or long term placements with foster families) and the latter sometimes have children with them already in a CLIS elsewhere. Where or daughter is appears to be better than others!

Now we have the dilemma with secondary schooling. Fortunately SESSAD (Service d'Education Spécialisée et de soins à Domicile) are helping and a transition to college is likely after a second additional year at primary to catch up.

So, we have started to look at SEN and provision in France seriously and have a couple of articles in mind for international journals already. The root of what is wrong, our opinion only of course, is the médico-éducatif model which is not inclusive and more or less consigns children with any kind of handicap to life's big scrapheap.

I know a number of Summerhill alumni and do not think it is necessarily good in practice, but the theory is great. As for activity, well it goes with our work anyway, so with our own child there is no way we tolerate these things. My wife, who is Swiss, has asked her sister who is a teacher for comparative information. We saw enough in England and Wales to know a bit and have good sources through people we know in Wales still. A German friend who is a retired teacher is now quite shocked by what we told her and is gathering information there and a Norwegian research centre where the director is an ex-girlfriend I am still in touch with is collecting a pile of Scandinavian/Nordic data. We will sting like bees when we have the time to work on what we intend to write.

Thank you Brian for the link. I also want to praise you and your wife for being so active in this matter. If I can help in any way, please let me know.

I am totally shocked to hear that even in your daughters case, drugs were offered. I find it somewhat worrying that doctors seem to choose the drugs aproach, before even looking into the origins or offering alternative methods first.

I went to Summerhill for 1 year, when I was 7 years old. Unless thier methods have changed a lot, I wouldn't consider sending my son there. A child with ADHD definatly needs routine and discipline, which Summerhill did not offer. For me, it was an interesting year, where I could live care free, learn what ever I wanted to and did whatever I felt like, but the problems came, when i started a swiss public school immediatly afterwards. I was simply lost. I was like a wild rabbit that had been caught and forced to spend it's life from then on, in a hutch. This brought a lot of frustration and rebellion. Luckily, a few years later, the swiss school authorities allowed me to go to another anthroposophical school, with an amercain and swiss schooling system.

There is a Steiner school, near where my son is being schooled at the moment, as soon as I'm able to move near there, I'm definatly going to make an appointment with them and see if they accept children with ADHD and what their approaches are.

Read this and think about it for your answer:


Everybody is 'handicapped' whether they are wheelchair bound or have slight educational special needs. It is a socio-medical model. They have no 'liberal' inclusive approaches like Montessori or A.S. Neill's Summerhill offer. Psychiatry with a brigade of psychologists, neurologists and other people who throw pills at every imaginable condition. As I said to one psychiatrist who said that our daughter with Down Syndrome should be having some kind of drug, 'she has an extra chromosome' not an incurable disease. I have studied children for four decades, my wife for two decades (see's younger than me) we both have doctorates as well as any of these 'experts', so we are capable of understanding things as well as they are and I have more than sufficient experience of special needs children apart from my own (who is Mosaic Down which she had not heard of, so I asked her to web search whilst we were there....). For all of that, she still told us that she is an expert and recommended... Yes, something has to change and my wife and I shall be doing a little work that will at least drag France's lack of special education through the mud in the children's rights world. As you might understand, it has all got to me. At least we have stayed in control and she does not have to be drugged up in case she starts to make sense of the world!

Hi. Mother of an 8 year old boy who has ADHD, I have come across a multitude of difficulties trying to find the right care and schooling for him.

As you might remember, I wrote about my nightmare experiance with the village school, where the staff prefered to aggravate his hyperactivity by constantly blaming him for anything possible; depriving him any outings or activities; and not hiding the fact they had personnal issues about him being british and from a single parent household. Then the other parents all teamed up together and started a discriminating petition to get him thrown out of school. Before I let it come to that, the only solution I could find was for him to go to a specialised school (ITEP) 60km away. Meening not seeing him during the week.

The first year went really well, he was making a lot of progress and seemed a lot happier. Since after the summer holidays, I feel something has changed. I don't know if some of the staff there have been having personnal problems that are reflecting on the way they work, but my son is not as happy as when he first started there. After a parents day in september, I have lost a lot of my trust in the school. As usual, a week before, I received a plan with the times of when I should see each memeber of the staff who have to do with him, individually (Teacher, psychologist, psychomotor therapist and team leader). Well, when I turned up there, the team leader, told me to go and see the school psychiatrist. When I asked why, as my son doesn't see her, he said: "Just go. It's important!". Ok, so I go and see her and she tells me, some of the school staff have had a chat and have decided it would be a good idea if they try Ritalin on him. Already when he started there, I told them my opinion on these drugs (Yes, drugs! ritalin is an amphetamine, therefore a drug!), but obviously they needed reminding, so I roll off all the possible side-affects, unknown effects on how these drugs effect the brain, body, and psyche in the longterm (believe me I've done many hours of research on the net), etc. She just sits in her chair with beuh,beuh,beuh noises comming out of her mouth, until she gets herself together, shows me the door with advice I should go and see a "neuropediatre".

Next stop, the psychchologist. She starts accusing me that I let him do everything and that he needs a firm hand. I wonder how she comes to this conclusion, considering, we've only seen eachother 3 times for no longer than 5 minutes and she's never been a witness to my parenting. Then she asks what we'll be doing during the holidays. I tell her a trip to the Christmas market. Where she replies: "Oh yes, you could take him to McDonalds as well". Hello? This is when I start to realise that she doesn't have a clue about ADHD. And more and more, it's being confirmed by other comments the staff are making. The team leader, who's not in any way educated in a medical profession, is especially putting pressure on me, for me to agree to drug my son. I don't have the feeling he's acting in the interest of my son either. The way he basically screamed at me, when I went to him, after seeing the psychiatrist: "Did you go and see the psychiatrist??? Did you understand what she said??? Well, have a good think about it!!!". It was quite intimidating actually. Since or before this parents day, I have never heard a word from the director, mentioning any kind of staff meeting about medicating my son...

So this is supposed to be a specialised school, but if they are only interested in putting him on Ritalin, he might just as well gone to a different public school. I'm really worried about this situation. Especially as the word dropped that they could refuse his schooling in their "etablissement", if I refuse to put him on "medication". I don't know what to do anymore. I've tried to find information about schools qualified for kids with ADHD and there isn't any in the area.

In the UK, I have quite a few friends who work at public schools, and ADHD kids seem to be accepted in "normal" classrooms. Why is this not possible in France? Why are they discriminated; thrown into schools together with children who have a history of juvenile delinquence; or forced to be drugged to keep the teachers happy? Something seriously has to change!

On a last note, here's a quote I found a while ago: "Say "No" to drugs, but keep taking your Ritaline!".

Please don't, I am not I am allowed to anyway, the book I would quote will not be published until next year and Springer Publishers are bigger than me!

From a review on Freire, who I met a couple of times:

Paulo Freire (1921 - 1997), the Brazilian educationalist, has left a significant mark on thinking about progressive practice. His Pedagogy of the Oppressed is currently one of the most quoted educational texts (especially in Latin America, Africa and Asia). Freire was able to draw upon, and weave together, a number of strands of thinking about educational practice and liberation. Sometimes some rather excessive claims are made for his work e.g. 'the most significant educational thinker of the twentieth century'. He wasn't - John Dewey would probably take that honour - but Freire certainly made a number of important theoretical innovations that have had a considerable impact on the development of educational practice - and on informal education and popular education in particular. In this piece we assess these - and briefly examine some of the critiques that can be made of his work.

As for the teachers, sadly I am beginning to get the sense that because they know no different, it is OK. Our daughter's speech therapist, in Beaumont not so far from Véronique, is of this century and has said words to that effect. But then I have the feeling she reads books, etc, from other countries!! Shock, horror.

Shock, horror ! no SENCo ? no integrated schools ?!? so children with learning difficulties are hidden away in France?? no wonder, teachers must feel completely helpless and unsupported. I know how difficult it was trying to teach French to a low ability Yr8 class, where ADHD, Aspergers and Dyspraxia was all to common. How the French system is failing these kids! Will have a look at Paulo Freire....

I am disappointed in your reluctance to self-quote- go on Brian! v interesting.

We have rejected the EREA you refer to. They do a couple of hours teaching a day, the rest are 'leisure activities' or 'resting' - la Rosette, I mean. We were there recently. SEGPA, yes, funny attitude. They are going 'support' our daughter if she goes to one of the three Bergerac colleges with a ULIS. SESSAD are doing a bit until that is decided, which is next month. They will probably support her through a second additional year in CLIS, see her over to SEGPA and ULIS and then the rest is in the clouds somewhere.

CLIS outcomes are mainly children who are further behind than they should be unless, like us, parents can help. Fortunately our little one has none of the physical problems that the majority of Down children have and is not the least bright person in the world, there are plenty of supposedly normal ones who I find need support, deserve it but never get it.

One of my closest friends here is a teacher. He is a good teacher. We know because our other daughter who is one of the top of her class and several of her peers, indeed his own daughter, had him as a teacher. Nonetheless, he had three years of a rather vague training after leaving IT. Other teachers, as he says, have only one year if they already have a degree. A degree in what? Almost anything according to him. There are no real 'teacher training colleges' and the science of education in universities is mainly chock full with psychologists rather than educators. So let us hope that Hollande's proposed new teacher training colleges are passed into law by the government next spring.

We have a fair number of books on special education, many of them in fact on the topic in what we refer to as developing countries. However some of them really put a few European countries to shame. In Brazil there is a strong tendency toward the ideas of Paulo Freire that has been incorporated into their inclusive education methods and certainly over the last three decades I saw great strides away from a medical to social model in South America in general. The citation you use Heather often reflects attitude changes that have come with children's rights consciousness since 1989, which is where I sit firmly on home ground (but shall not cite myself...). One enormous problem is the definition of handicap and how the French have actually handicapped themselves by adopting that word and somehow fitting a narrow definition to it that is 'all inclusive' in the wrong sense because it actually works as 'separatist' in the position of education in civil society.

France lacks entirely Montessori, Neill, Dewey and such models of its own and tends to reject the importation of those 'foreign' ideas. In short, education is still rather conservative and where the CLIS is an attempt, it is a rather poor one compared to models elsewhere. Much needs to be done. My daughter is too old to see the benefits, of course, but there needs to be a revolution in the thought behind education.

I haven't encountered any SEN training at all for teachers here although people doing the equivalent of BEd/MEd may have - SEGPA has been mentioned in training but just at an anecdotal level (they jump about all over the place!! C'est sportif!) there is no such job as SENCo in French schools. Not all collèges have a SEGPA either and they don't exist in Lycée général as far as I'm aware - the children concerned have been hived off into professional training at a fairly low level (CAP) beforehand.

The system has a lot of difficulty dealing with the varied needs of children in schools let alone the needs of children who have a 'label'. For what it is worth I have never had a child with Down's syndrome in class in France - I should think they are either in CLIS or SEGPA or EREA (where I haven't taught) and I think these places too frequently serve as a cupboard to put people away and have some fairly dodgy ideology. I don't think, were my child concerned, that I'd be too impressed with the psychoanalytical approach to autism which seems to be the norm here.

It is extraordinary that children with an extra chromosome should never be seen or heard of in collège here as I have met plenty in the UK who did better in class than quite a few of their 'normal' peers. There is an EREA in/near Bergerac I think (there are 80 in France which seems very few) but many children are put in SEGPA as long as the parents agree, where they will follow a national curriculum minus and end up in apprenticeships etc fairly soon. I don't know what the CLIS outcomes are.

Brian, firstly courage- France seems somewhat behind the UK in adopting the inclusive model of education and I have heard some horror stories with children being forgotten about in courtyards, as teachers havent known what to do with them. One thing as highlighted by yourself already is the use of labelling, which in itself is very dangerous, but using handicapped to describe children with disabling conditions or learning difficulties just seems out of date. I have just finished some research on this topic as mentioned and there is so much to learn. As you have already experienced, usually the least specialist are dealing with the most specialised subjects. It is the same in the UK, with Higher Teaching Assistants/Classroom Assistants frequently replacing teachers. IT would seem that France,as you have recognised is still using the medical model as opposed to the social model but it is interesting to note that,

“According to the Social Model of Disability a person’s impairment is not the cause of disability, but rather disability is the result of the way society is organised, which disadvantages and excludes people with impairments.” Morris, Crow, Thomas (1993, 1996, 2007, cited in Armstrong & Spandagou, 2011, p30). This is slowly becoming the preferred model in the UK and there have been some important changes. The most significant being the change to Initial Teacher Training in the UK. Student teachers will now have much more exposure to SEN environments, including paricipation in a specialised SEN module. I think this is key to moving Inclusive Education on and getting rid of special school once and for all. Training and attitudes are crucial and teachers play a crucial role. Not sure how this compares to teacher training in France?