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Inclusion at United Herzlia Schools

| June 25, 2014 | 1 Comment

By Geoff Cohen

Herzlia School was established in 1940 and today has 10 campuses for 2 100 pupils from preschool through to Grade 12. The school serves both the Jewish and wider community of Cape Town.

Iam proud of the fact that today each campus is fully inclusive, enrolling pupils with a wide variety of learning, emotional and physical challenges. Inclusive education is a developmental approach seeking to address the learning needs of all children, with a specific focus on those who are vulnerable to marginalisation and exclusion. It means that the school seeks to provide a good education to all pupils, irrespective of their varying abilities. All children are treated with respect and ensured equal opportunities to learn together. One of the most important lessons I have learned in my years as an educator is the fact that schools are a microcosm of society.

Teaching with care and caution

In any community – geographical, cultural or religious – there will be a variety of individuals’ strengths and weaknesses. If we take a cross-section of any community, one will find in its members medical conditions, learning disabilities, emotional traumas, developmental disabilities and physical disabilities. No community exists that is perfect, and we should teach this to our children at an early age. It is thus logical that in any given school population, a percentage of children will require some sort of support to navigate the demands of school or to have a meaningful educational experience tailored to their needs.

It is therefore my strong belief that schools must identify the required support, provide the required support, manage the cases requiring support and support the teachers who are teaching mixed ability classes. Teachers will naturally realise that they are teaching mixed ability classes and will need to structure their lessons accordingly, valuing the needs of all pupils.

It is clear to me that children need to be with each other, rather than separated from each other. Children who learn together, learn to live together. This is even truer when these children are part of a natural community, such as those attending Herzlia. Being part of a community gives a person a feeling of belonging. This, in turn, increases their self-esteem and ultimately leads to their becoming a more complete and successful individual.

All of this takes hard work and a will to succeed. The whole team has to be part of the winning formula.

Teachers have to ‘buy in’ to the concept, pupils need to understand that they will be sitting side by side with all kinds of children with all kinds of strengths and weaknesses, and the parent body has to accept that their own children will be in the same class as children with special education needs.

All these people have to take on a shared responsibility. They all have to show understanding of the needs of the individuals. They all have to acknowledge the differences that exist between individuals. A culture of tolerance and acceptance needs to be inculcated by everyone. I’m sure that most schools have students who battle either academically or socially.

I’m sure that most schools have students, for example, who excel at sport and students who just can’t or don’t want to get involved in sport. These children are already in your schools. You just have to go the next mile with them.

Herzlia inclusion programme has evolved

Herzlia’s inclusion programme was adopted in 1997 and began with just five students and one special education needs coordinator (SENCO). It has evolved into a sophisticated, fully-fledged programme run by 50 teachers, offering support at each stage of the child’s academic journey. We currently employ 21 full-time and five part-time learning support teachers, six full-time facilitators plus seven remedial staff members. This excludes another 20 teachers who are paid directly by parents.

The number of pupils requiring extensive learning support has grown from five in 1997 to 80 in 2013.

For preschoolers, the focus is on early intervention for both teachers and parents. Areas screened include speech and hearing, fine and gross motor coordination and a range of psychometric tests. A full quota of academic support on our campuses in the form of occupational therapy, physiotherapy, speech/language therapy, social and emotional support and remedial therapy is provided.

Support of the child continues into primary and middle school, where academic demands are greater – teaching assistants, modifications to the mainstream curriculum and individualised educational programmes (IEP) are all offered. In one of our primary schools and in the middle school, we have introduced an academic support class (ASC) with a dedicated staff member for severely challenged pupils, such as those with autism spectrum disorder, Down’s syndrome and cognitive limitations. Where possible, these pupils are continually integrated back into regular classes and take part in the life of the school – outdoor camps, sports days, swimming galas and cultural and religious activities.

A special vocational angle for high school

In high school, pupils are given the opportunity to select their own academic track, which includes studying towards the standard National Senior Certificate, the less demanding Endorsed Senior Certificate or the National Certificate (Vocational) (NVC). The NVC programme aims to develop pupils’ literacy and numeracy skills, as well as to provide them with career-oriented certification in the area of their choosing. The literacy and numeracy components of the vocational programme are based on adult basic education and training (ABET) principles, and are supplied to our students by a company called MediaWorks. An ABET-aligned programme allows a pupil to attain nationally recognised certification from Level 1 (most basic) through to Level 4 (a general education and training certificate equivalent).1

In addition to the vocational, literacy and numeracy components of the programme, the NVC programme also develops practical life skills in pupils, such as:

• money management
• dealing with sexuality
• living a healthy lifestyle
• conflict resolution and assertiveness training
• driving licence
• functional cooking
• social skills training.

Herzlia has been granted permission by the national Department of Education to offer this programme within our mainstream school. At the core of all our inclusion programmes are our learning centres, run by a dedicated team of SENCO remedial teachers, social workers, psychologists and a range of outsourced therapists, who provide academic support from basic remediation to designing individualised education plans for pupils. Our centres are equipped with technology, learning materials and resources to support the programme. All educators are required to attend regular personal development training in the area of inclusion, through organisations such as the South African Association for Learning and Educational Differences (SAALED).2

Herzlia at the centre of wide network

Herzlia is widely regarded as a best practice model for inclusive education in South Africa. Our open enrolment policy means that our many success stories include graduated pupils with physical disabilities such as blindness, deafness and cerebral palsy; cognitive limitations; and social and emotional challenges.

Since 1997, an extensive network of professionals has been referring pupils with disabilities to Herzlia, because of our reputable programme. The high school works extensively with sheltered and supportive employment organisations to provide job-site training and employment opportunities for pupils with disabilities.

Although we are an independent Jewish school, we have broadened our network and accessibility to a wide range of governmental organisations and educational resource centres that deal specifically with individuals with disabilities.

With regards to career-based training programmes, we have partnered with INTEC College3 to deliver what it calls a ‘home-school’ programme. Herzlia acts as the oversight body for the implementation of INTEC programmes. Currently, pupils are able to choose from the following options for study:

• child day care
• marketing South African tourism
• food and beverage preparation
• small business management
• make-up artistry
• international computer driving licence.4

Each of these courses is modular and requires the pupil to complete theoretical and practical components before being able to achieve certification. Throughout the course, pupils complete various work-shadow placements, which allow them to build up a network of contacts and to experience working conditions in a chosen field.

They also attend as many mainstream academic classes as possible, especially where they may overlap with their chosen INTEC course. For example, a Grade 10 pupil studying marketing South African tourism may attend the mainstream tourism and business studies classes. All pupils attend guidance, life orientation and Jewish studies classes with their mainstream peers.

Complex arrangements make for success for all

Although there are shared core components of the pupils’ programmes, each programme is specifically tailored to each pupil in terms of level of difficulty, time frame of completion and individual pupil preference. The shared belief that we need to recognise successful learning as an individual’s personal best enables us to achieve success for every pupil.

As it stands, across the Herzlia network, approximately 20% of children on each campus make use of educational support services. A further 20% make use of social and emotional support services and approximately 3% of children in the system have individual facilitators. Within the broader South African context, there are 400 000 children with disabilities, and 64 000 of these children are accommodated within special schools.5

If we take these statistics into account, what we are trying to do with the NVC programme is to establish a long-term educational and life plan for children with special needs.

By encouraging independence and functionality of these pupils, we thereby reduce the burden on the community as a whole as these individuals can become functional, productive members of society.

It is through these and similar measures that we believe that we are able to cater for a very broad spectrum of pupils, beyond what most mainstream schools are able to do. We have instituted these measures out of the conviction that while there is certainly a role for specialised schools, in accordance with trends both in the South African education system and abroad, the first choice wherever possible is to include children in the mainstream, and for them to be part of their communities in particular and mainstream society in general.

We all need assistance

In the very last paragraph of his book, Long Walk To Freedom,6 the late Nelson Mandela wrote:

“I have discovered the secret that after climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb. I have taken a moment to rest, to steal a view of the glorious vista that surrounds me, to look back at the distance I have come. But I can rest only a moment, for with freedom comes responsibilities, and I dare not linger for my long walk is not yet ended.”

That first hill that I climbed was to take Herzlia on a wonderful yet difficult journey. There are so many hills to climb. With each new pupil came a new set of challenges.

It is not possible to become complacent, arrogant or smug. There is no chance at all of ‘knowing it all’. That is what makes our chosen life at Herzlia so rewarding. It reminds us that we are all human; that we are all fallible.

1. See, for example:
2. See:
3. See:
4. The International Computer Driving License (ICDL) is a global computer literacy initiative developed to provide knowledge about information technology (IT) and enhance competence of using personal computers and common computer applications for all the citizens of the world. (Source:
5. See, for example: Monama, T. (2012) “Many disabled not at school.” Available at:
6. Mandela, N.R. (1995) Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. New York: Back Bay Books.

Category: Winter 2014

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Comments (1)

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  1. Haydn Goldman says:

    I have been teaching drum kit at Redhill School Sandton for the past 14 years.
    I would like to make a lifestyle change to Cape Town with my wife, daughter, son-in-law and 2 grandchildren(both boys 5 and 3 respectively).

    Do you offer drumming as an extra mural activity.

    I teach the Trinity College London Rock and Pop syllabus.

    I am proud to say that my 60 students passed with excellent results. I had the only 2 drumming students in South Africa to undertake the highest grade in Drum Music Grade 8. One person got the highest mark in the world for Grade 8 (97%).Both received Honours Blazers for their achievements.
    My daughter is in the process of applying for a pre and prep school position. She has been teaching at Redhill for a number of years
    Please advise who I should contact in this regard-drumming.

    Kind regards

    Haydn Goldman

    083 226 9297

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