Macmillan SA recently hosted an Inclusive Education conference entitled "Crossing The Divide - Practical Solutions For Inclusive Education." This two-day event was well attended by educators from all levels of schooling and the knowledge, wisdom and hints shared by some of the guest speakers was truly inspiring.

I asked Ms Marie-Louise Samuels, Acting Chief Director: Curriculum and Assessment, GET at the DBE why Co-ordination between the Departments of Labour, Education, Health and Social Services needs to improve. There is no point in the Department of Labour setting a target of 2.5% if the other processes to provide the necessary skills are not in place. For example, principal training and teaching assistance is not in place, (see RI Jan/Feb page 30). Ms Samuels agreed that there is a problem but failed to offer a solution - other than to say that the various Departments must start speaking to each other.

On the final day a speaker who has worked at a South African inclusive school prompted teachers to demand thattheir schools take on at least one learner with special needs. This sounds good in principle but how realistic is it?

A government School on theWest Rand serves a mainly affluent community.

They are a Section 21 schools o parents are expected to pay school fees. There are other schools that ask for no school fees. All schools receive funding from DoE scaled according to whether they are Section 21 as well as the affluence of the community served.

Last year this school received about R1 per learner per school day. The overall running costs of the school were approximately R38 per learner per school day including salaries for extra teachers to keep the pupil/teacher ratio down and teachers' assistants. The DoE stipulates 40 pupils per class at primary school level and 35 pupils per class at high school level. With 198 school days in 2010 the shortfall for the year was around R7,326 per learner!

The DoE dictate how their money should be spent. In the case of this school 50% had to go to LTSM (Learner/Teacher Support Materials - text books, posters, exercise books, stationery etc), 38% to Services (water and lights, etc) and 12% to Maintenance. That means that monies provided by DoE for learning materials in 2010 was less than R100 per child for the year! For 2011/12 the allocation has doubled (to R2 per child per day) but, as at 28 February 2011, this school had not received any payments from DoE, saying that DoE payments were often erratic.

When Rolling spoke to a senior educator at the school she was busy completing a survey ordered by the DoE. They want to know, by population group and gender, how many ADD, autistic,  behavioural disorders, blind, partially-sighted, cerebral palsied, deaf, deaf/blind, epileptic, hard of hearing, mild to moderately intellectually disabled, moderate to severely intellectually disabled, severely intellectually disabled, physically disabled, specific learning disabled and children with psychiatric disorders there are in the school - and the figures must be supportedby medical evidence provided by parents. Schools must also accommodate learners who fall pregnant - even primary schools!

Each condition receives a weighting, for example a pupil who is ADD may receive a weighting of perhaps two, pupils with behavioural disorders could have a weighting of say three. By placing 10 pupils with behavioural disorders and five pupils with ADD in a single class there would only be 15 children in the class but, due to the weighting system, it would be the equivalent of 40 pupils, a full class.

That sounds all well and good but teachers at these schools are only trained to school mainstream pupils, not children with disabilities and special needs. During teacher training there is now a module on LSEN (Learners with Special Education Needs) but that module addresses "at risk learners" -  learners who come from an abusive ordysfunctional home environment, and NOT learners with disabilities.

This particular school does two hours of teacher training once a month. The teachers get guest speakers in, buy DVDs - anything feasible to try and up-skill themselves. And this is done after school because there is no provision for stand-in teachers and it is not known if the same happens at other schools.

The DoE also provides training; curriculum based think tanks with at least 50 teachers from about a 50km radius. They advise on changes to curricula and each subject is discussed at least once every six months. These are the perfect arenas for providing mainstream teachers with the skills to teach children with special needs - but so far that has not happened.

Macmillan Teacher Campus is providing four free two-and-a-half hour teacher workshops in 2011. They are allaimed at Foundation Phase teachers and do not yet cover any subjects specific to learners with disabilities.