Disability Undressed: ‘Special school or mainstream school? I know which classrooms I preferred.’

2 February 2017

Mock signpost showing mainstream school in one direction and special school in the other directionDeciding which school to send your child to is an important decision faced by all parents. When your child is disabled, there is another dimension to consider.

Have the teachers been trained to support particular needs? Will the classmates be hurtful or friendly? Is sympathy a good thing? Is empathy possible?

This has been discussed in the media recently, with several articles looking at disabled people's experiences in education including in The Guardian and Irish Examiner

A conversation at one of Leonard Cheshire’s activity centres reveals one individual’s perspective.

Meet Jayne

‘I was born with cerebral palsy — a condition caused by a lack of oxygen around birth that often affects mobility — and went to both mainstream schools and special schools,’ says Jayne*.

‘Which did I prefer? I preferred the schools that had the most boys!

‘At a few of the schools I went to, I was practically the only girl. It made me stand out and get attention, which I like, but I’ve always got on better with boys anyway.’

‘I always stood up for myself’

Jayne uses a wheelchair most of the time, for balance, but football is her passion and she always enjoyed being the goalkeeper at school.

‘I was always around boys playing football, so that was the most important thing, whichever school I was at.

‘I found they supported me too, and respected the fact that I always stood up for myself.’

Nowadays football is played by both sexes at primary and secondary school, but this wasn’t typically the case when Jayne, now 39, was growing up.

Lack of choice

A Reading season ticket holder, Jayne still has more male friends than female, so there’s some irony in the fact she’s now found herself in a house share with a woman.

Jayne works for a printing press as part of an all-disabled workforce, and the business provides on-site accommodation.

It is potentially a perk, but the company decides who shares with whom, and for Jayne the luck of the draw has not been kind in the sense they don’t get on at all.

‘They had told me it would be a temporary arrangement, but it has been this way for months now.’

Jayne would love to live with her boyfriend, who she has been with for several years, but fears her disability living allowance would be stripped back if her living arrangements changed†.

She feels stuck. It feels wrong to her that a choice between a happy home and an income which allows for a basic standard of living has to be made at all.

Second home

Jayne second home is her Leonard Cheshire activity centre, where she spends two days a week. The ratio of women to men is actually roughly 10-1, but she’s found common ground in quizzes and games, conversations and laughter.

What does all this show? Perhaps only that a personality-match is one of the most important things, whether at school or home, work or play.

*Jayne is not the interviewee’s real name; she has asked for her identity to be anonymised.

†Disability living allowance is a non-means tested benefit so would not be affected by change in circumstances. Leonard Cheshire Disability has provided clarification and guidance to Jayne.

Disability Undressed is a series of stories featuring the people who use our services. To keep up to date with all our latest news, campaigns and events, sign up to our newsletters.


This seems typical that as disabled people our choices are stilted and often mean, having to make choices that do not seem. like.choices at all. I would like to see more disabled people in leadership positions in Government, so that decisions around issues such. as benefits are made by people who have Experience of them.
I have Cerebral Palsy down. one side of my body and I am currently completing my Masters dissertation on: "The Structural. Barriers Disabled People face in Obtaining Employment" and I know that the way benefits are currently structured is part of the problem.
I. hope to be able to work with. others to achieve a different outcome. From Jane.

I was born with spina bifida and went to a boarding school with 40 boys & 40 girls all had a disability and I enjoyed my time at the school and made great friends with not only other pupils at the school but the staff as well who have remaind friends to this day as I am now 68 & married when employed I worked designing computers and building them I did that for 30 years when I left school I trained in accountancy my aim in life is aim as high as you can and if you have a dream go for it and don't give up every disabled person can achieve what the want given the breaks

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