Skip to main content

The Good Schools Guide Blog

The Good Schools Guide Blog

Guest blog from the Good Schools Guide Education Consultants' Head of Special Needs, Bernadette John

Viewers tuning in for the Downton slot on Sunday night will have got something of a jolt – instead of cosy escapism, they were confronted by a brutal tale of death row executions and family betrayals (Undercover, BBC1).

I hope something else gave them a jolt – the portrayal of a family which, incidentally, has a child with a learning disability. To my knowledge this is a first for mainstream television. A family which happens to have a child with special needs but his condition is not central to the plot.


In the same weekend we saw a transgender person competing in the ultimate family show, The Voice, and a bank (surely among the most conservative of advertisers) promoting its services to betrothed gay couples. Progress to be sure.

And yet, can you recall a single advertisement featuring a learning disabled person? Thought not. How has this become the ultimate taboo?

Becoming the norm

It is important because the more our screens portray the full tapestry of humanity, the more accepting society becomes. When people who deviate from the norm of the mass, in whatever respect, are shown frequently on our screens, they become part of the norm.


Parents of children with special needs tell us that one of the most wearying aspects of their daily lives is the public gawping. Before they set foot in a park, restaurant or supermarket, they have to feel up to coping with being a public spectacle. The National Autistic Society reports that 87% of families with an autistic member describe how people stare. Half such families rarely go out owing to the dread of public reaction to autism.

This is the Society’s theme for this week’s World Autism Awareness Week (2-9 April) - calling on the public to find out more about autism so they can respond to autistic people with more understanding.

I’d add to that a call to scriptwriters and copywriters to step up. The medium certainly lags behind real life – it’s hard to believe that, only a few decades ago, the only advertising campaign to feature non-white people was Benetton's United Colours (and that was to promote the range of colours in its jumpers).


Gay marriage has caught on a couple of years after the legal event. But why the bashfulness about disability which has been around since time immemorial?

April 2016

The Good Schools Guide Blog


Related articles

  • Special Needs introduction

    Signs of special needs in school age children; how to get help; which type of school to choose; Education, Health and Care Plans ... Read more ... Need help? Perhaps you suspect your child has some learning difficulty and you would like advice on what you should do. Or perhaps it is becoming clear that your child's current school is not working for him or her, and you need help to find a mainstream school which has better SEN provision, or to find a special school which will best cater for your child's area of need.  Our SEN team helps…

  • The Good Schools Guide online subscription

    Find the best school for your child. One month subscription - £0.49 per day Three month subscription - £0.41 per day Six month subscription - £0.33 per day One year subscription - £0.29 per day Register for instant access to: ☑ Search for more than 30000 schools in our parent friendly interactive directory. ☑ Create and save lists of schools via My Schools. ☑ Use our comparison grid to get an exam results overview of schools you are interested in. ☑ Find comprehensive advice on state and independent schools, tutors and special needs. ☑ Receive our monthly newsletter. For further…

  • Where to find a state grammar school

    Identifying and locating grammar schools. Grammar schools are located in 36 English local authorities. Almost half of these are considered 'selective authorities' (eg Kent and Buckinghamshire), where around one in five local children are selected for grammar school entry based on ability. The others are areas such as Barnet or Kingston, with only a few grammar schools.

  • Choosing a school for a child with performing arts talents

    As proud parents, we all know our children are unique. They're smarter than anyone else's, funnier, certainly more attractive, better behaved and above all bursting with the kind of talent that would leave Daniel Radcliffe, Jamie Bell and Charlotte Church standing. And for some extraordinary - though totally understandable - reason, everyone but us seems blind to our offspring's God-given artistic gifts.

  • Boarding schools explained - the right choice?

    The headmaster/mistress runs the school but boarding houses are usually the domain of either houseparents or, in smaller schools, the head of boarding. Whilst the housemaster/mistress oversee the house, the day-to-day running is usually under the supervision of a matron.

Subscribe for instant access to in-depth reviews, data and catchment:

Comprehensive catchment maps for English state schools inc. year of entry.
 School exam results by subject and performance GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 Which schools pupils come from and go onto.
 Honest, opinionated and fearless independent reviews of more than 1,100+ schools.
 Overall school performance by GCSE, Alevel or equivalent.
 School data comparison by A/B weighted, relative success and popularity.
 Compare schools by qualities and results.
 Independent tutor company reviews.

Try before you buy - The Charter School Southwark

The Good Schools Guide subscription

 GSG Blog >    In the news >


Educational insight in your inbox. Sign up for our popular newsletters.

Transgender policy now needed in every school

3rd editions of Good Schools Guide - London North and South now available, all entries fully revised with 2016 results. Buy now...