Thursday, 18 June 2015

Inclusive Thinking

This article appeared in The Teacher magazine, May-June 2015

It is very clear that children and young people with SEN have been badly let down by the current approach to national policy. As a child, the feeling of exclusion can be emotionally devastating. Whether it’s from a sports team or a friendship group, the feeling can leave lasting scars.

But there is another form of exclusion that is being forced on schools across the country, one that will hamper every child’s development and wellbeing long into adulthood. It is the exclusion of children with special education needs (SEN) from fulfilling their potential.

According to a recent study commissioned by the NUT, SEN pupils are suffering from the consequences of the Government raising performance expectations while simultaneously slashing SEN services. It found schools struggling to cope with increased demands on already stretched budgets and resources.

“Inclusion has to be seen within the current wider education context,” explain Maurice Galton and John MacBeath, Cambridge professors and co-authors of the report Inclusion: Statements of intent, published in February. The findings present a damning picture of a fragmented system, where children with SEN lose out.

“The increase in the number of schools outside the mainstream [academies, for instance] has meant that the funds available to local authorities have decreased and by implication less money is now available for supporting special needs of all kinds and at all levels. At the same time schools are being held accountable, with the new inspection criteria increasingly focused on academic outcomes at the expense of social and emotional aspects of learning.”

The in-depth study was conducted in nine secondary schools and ten primary schools across London, the East Midlands/East Anglia and the Northern region. Researchers spoke with head teachers and SENCOs, investigating the limiting factors and external pressures that restrict the capability of schools to promote inclusion, and also explored the elements that enhance inclusive education.

"The overwhelming impression remaining after these school visits was that most schools were doing their best in a climate of uncertainty, increased parental pressure and declining support from the local authority and other complementary agencies such as health and social work,” the researchers noted.
SEN provision was shown to be inconsistent and at times counter-productive: competitive admissions policies and a focus on Ofsted ratings excluded those most in need of support for fear of ‘reputational damage’; variations of funding levels produced anomalies of SEN provision across the country and created a postcode lottery for SEN students; and an alarming number of schools were relying on unqualified teachers to lead classrooms, to the detriment of SEN pupils.

Inclusion means adapting to the needs of students, regardless of their ability. “With integration, the child fits into the school. With inclusion, the school adjusts to the child,” summed up a primary head teacher.

“It is very clear that children and young people with SEN have been badly let down by the current approach to national policy,” comments NUT General Secretary Christine Blower. “Schools face an accountability regime which undermines inclusive education and which is jeopardising some of the world-class inclusive practice developed in our classrooms. We need a longer-term and wider view of what success means so that all children and young people are valued and a wider range of effort and attainment is recognised.”

A limited number of free copies of Inclusion: Statements of intent are available to NUT members on a first come, first served basis. Please send copy requests to equality@nut.org.uk

The NUT is offering a two-day course in June on supporting the effective use of teaching assistants to support pupils with SEND in mainstream schools. This would be a useful learning tool for SENCOs, inclusion managers, members of senior leadership teams, and teachers with responsibility for the management and deployment of teaching assistants in mainstream schools. For further information go to: www.teachers.org.uk/node/16261

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