Education Viewpoint: Teachers bullied me, as well as pupils

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I have cerebral palsy. I was a target for school bullies who eventually robbed me of an equal education and all that went with it. I am in favour of integrated education and believe that children are able to accept disability in others if introduced to it at an early age.

I went to a normal school - as it was termed in my childhood. Acceptance by my peers was not a problem at first, however this changed. One teacher held the view that I was definitely out of place, a square peg in a round hole. She made me question my own perception of myself.

When I was six years old, I had difficulty holding pencils and, therefore, my writing was virtually unreadable. She disciplined me for this by smacking me with a ruler and made comments about how a spider could probably do a better job of writing.

It was the first time I had come up against my own unmovable obstacle. My handwriting? No, my disability. I could not see it the way others did. I only saw my awful, ugly handwriting.

I suppose there came a time when the reality of my situation caught up with me. I had no real problems with my classmates until my last year at primary school when a teacher's prejudice against me forced a change. His attitude influenced not only me, but also my peers.

I had difficulty keeping up with everyone in respect of my physical abilities, yet, according to the headmaster, I had the academic ability to pass my 11-plus and go on to grammar school. This was not meant to be.

To my teacher, I was invisible. He ridiculed the neatness of my work while I was not in the room - so giving permission to the bullies to treat me as different. The bullying was psychological, name calling and the like, but occasionally it became physical.

I began to question my self- worth. I wished that I had been born 'totally normal' or 'mentally handicapped'. If I had been 'normal', I wouldn't have felt frustrated with my limitations or the bullying of my peers. Moreover, if I had been 'mentally handicapped', I would not have been aware of either.

The bullying went on with my class teacher's knowledge, and only two trainee teachers on placement at the time made an effort to stop it.

I made a decision that year which I have regretted all my life. I conceded to social pressure and persuaded my parents and the education specialist that I would be better off at a special school.

With my self-respect in tatters, I was soon confronted with another revelation - the bullying didn't stop at the 'special' school. I had to face up to the problem and deal with it.

The worst thing about segregated schools in the early Seventies was the standard of education. The first class I entered was for pupils a year older than myself, and I was taught from books borrowed from the class above.

When I was 12 I moved up a class and was able to learn, although my classmates were about two years older than me.

In January 1974, four months after my 13th birthday, I entered the top class of the school where I remained for the next three years. We did not do any ouside examinations until my final year at school. By the time they came along, I was so disillusioned and frustrated with my education that I refused to be included in the group sitting the exams. I became disruptive and left school as soon as I could.

Bullying changed the course of my life. For some, able-bodied and disabled, it scars their lives. For others, it claims them.

I am now 34 years old and have just begun to claim back an education that rightfully could have been, and should have been, mine all those years ago.

The writer is on an access course and plans to go to university.

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