Gale’s View -  20th August 2012
 
It is said that the former Labour Cabinet Member, David Blunkett, had a torrid time at the special needs school for blind pupils to which he was sent as a child.
 
What is certain is that later in life, when he became Blair’s Secretary of State for Education, Mr. Blunkett  initiated a drive towards “inclusion” that led to many more pupils being accommodated in mainstream schools and to the closure of many special needs establishments.
 
On the plus side there were some children who, with assistance, worked their way through mainstream education and have gone on to succeed where, under other circumstances, they might have become marginalised as “handicapped”.
 
On the debit side, other children found themselves equally marginalised in mainstream schools, singled out as requiring specialised classroom assistance, unable to participate on equal terms in the extra-curricular activities of their peers and lacking in the enjoyment of the specialised skills and resources that Special Needs Schools were once able to offer. 
 
The wonderful and purpose-built hearing impaired unit at Hampton Primary School in Herne Bay (Ironically “included” within a mainstream establishment ) was broken up and  the national Centre of Excellence that was the Royal School for Deaf Children in Margate found itself starved of resources and forced to re-direct its energies to the detriment, I believe, of the young hearing-impaired community.
 
Why raise this now?
 
Because personal prejudice, from which we all suffer, is not necessarily a good basis for political judgement.   I myself enjoyed the benefit of an education in a boarding grammar school (there are two, Sir Roger Manwood and Cranbrook, remaining in Kent) but I concede that my own experience is not suited to the needs and desires of every parent or every child.
 
Which brings us to the present Secretary of State for Education (an advocate of Academies  and “Free Schools” but not of selective Grammar Schools) and of his own experience of school sport.
 
I know not whether it is true that, as is claimed, the young Michael Gove had an aversion to the school games field but it has become clear that while the Prime Minister sees a real future for the Olympic Legacy on the playing fields of our state  primary and secondary schools his Secretary of State for education has been quietly authorising the sale of some of the family turf.
 
It has to be crackers, surely, to allow schools that want to expand and need to pay for buildings to auction off any of the very pitches that the additional pupils will need if they are to participate in competitive sport, stay fit and, just possibly, reverse the national trend towards obesity?
 
I have had come to terms with the fact  that in a risk-averse bureaucracy it is no longer considered possible or appropriate to allow students to, as I did myself, grab a vaulting pole and, unsupervised, go out and brain myself, nightly, in the sandpit. (And let me be the first to say that that might account for a number of things!)
 
I understand the immense hazards that might just arise from a five mile cross-country run in freezing winter rain or the injuries that may be received from a mis-directed cricket or hockey ball, an over-enthusiastic rugby or soccer tackle or a fall from a climbing rope in a school gymnasium.
 
But if the success of our athletes on wheels, under sail or in the pool are ever again to be replicated on the running track or in competitive team games then at not just elite but at every level our young people need access, not only during limited school hours, to sports facilities.  And that means protecting our school playing fields

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