For me, inclusion is not simply the toleration of all pupils, but the active provision of opportunities for all to feel good about themselves and to have the chance to flourish, whatever their individual needs and potential barriers to learning might be.
Let’s start with the premise that all people have equal moral worth, irrespective of colour, gender, ability, ethnicity, religion, age or sexual orientation. People may act better or worse and there are rewards and sanctions for those but the inherent moral worth of each individual remains sacrosanct. Each individual must have the same opportunity to contribute to collective well being and “to participate in the making of decisions that affect them”. (Runnymede Trust, 2000)
Secondly, according to Lord Bhikhu Parekh’s Runnymede Trust report cited above, there exists the principle of difference. Since individuals have different needs , equal treatment means that relevant account has to be taken of the differences. When equality insists on uniformity of treatment that results in injustice and inequality. (Osler,2005). It is misconceived to conclude that African-Caribbean pupils attaining less well in the EBacc has nothing to do with what is happening in schools. The fundamental principle of inclusive education is the valuing of diversity within the human condition. We abandon the idea that children have to become “normal”. But… “the challenge is to nurture diversity and to foster cohesion and unity” (Osler, 2005).
Racism is not simply a moral issue. It serves as a barrier to participation and is therefore anti democratic. This has profound implications for political engagement and the well being of our society. The same applies in schools. So, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act (2000) requires schools to be proactive in fostering good race relations, not merely respond to racist incidents as they occur. Anti-racism needs to be linked to democracy, not just multiculturalism.
Reinforced by the Equalities Act (2010), not to mention the Race Relations (Amendment ) Act (2000) , teachers are supported by a raft of legislation that seeks to ensure that no child is left out of the health giving spa waters of our education system. Schools are not just practice for democratic engagement, they should provide its exemplar. As such, the benefits of inclusive practices would encompass the breakdown of prejudice, the flourishing of all individuals and enhanced contribution to collective well being through increased participation of engaged pupils who feel they are valued. It’s not complicated.
The findings of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in October 2010 were startling and did not paint a picture of an inclusive society, notwithstanding the excellent work that goes on in some organisations. Here are just some of the headlines:
Children aged five whose primary need is related to visual impairment are about half as likely to achieve a good level of development as pupils who do not have special needs.
Pupils with special needs are disproportionately represented in permanent exclusions – nearly three quarters of permanent exclusions involve pupils with some form of special need.
Disabled pupils, particularly those who are learning disabled, are more likely than others to experience bullying.
At age 16, there are significant differences in attainment according to ethnicity, and these vary significantly between England’s nine regions.
Overall, the attainment gap for African- Caribbean pupils was about 11 percentage points in 2009. But in the East Midlands and in Yorkshire it was close to 20 points, and in the North East over 30. There were also large differences between local authorities. The attainment gap in Lambeth, for example,was only four percentage points, whereas in Bristol, Camden, Hackney, Kirklees and Leeds it was at least 20.
Overall, the exclusion rate is 9 in every 10,000 pupils. In the case of pupils from African- Caribbean backgrounds, however, the rate is three times as high – 30 in every 10,000.
Irish Traveller and Gypsy or Roma children are the most likely to be permanently excluded and they are the only groups whose performance has deteriorated sharply in recent years.
Post-18, young people of minority backgrounds attend less prestigious institutions, study lower status subjects, are more likely to drop out, and less likely to attain the highest qualifications.
Women remain less likely than men to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM subjects).
A survey by the NFER of teachers’ perceptions found that almost a half (46 per cent) considered that bullying of pupils seen to be LGB is common, but only one in six (14 per cent) considered that such pupils were supported by their school.
These are of course selective findings and no doubt you would choose different examples but I have tried to show a representative sample. This does not point to an inclusive education system at large. On the contrary, certain individuals and groups are being disproportionately disadvantaged. We ignore this at enormous cost to our social cohesion.
There are countless examples of excellent practice in schools which provide a counterbalance to the bleak picture above. Essential elements of good practice seem to include clear and positive culture, policies and practices which foster inclusion. Vital as a prerequisite is the need for rigorous assesssment of individuals and groups to find out where gaps are appearing, why and to set targets. Crucially though, this assessment should not just scrutinise achievement but whole school attitudes and values regarding ethnicity, racism, acceptance of difference, distant localities, sexual orientation, and so on. (Consider using as a template RISC’s excellent “How do we know it’s working?”)
Evidence shows that a flexible curriculum serves the goal of inclusion best, in that the individual needs of all learners are catered for. As a former classroom teacher I fully appreciate what a challenge this provides, but the notion implicit in too many curriccula, particularly at Secondary level, that all pupils should learn the same material in the same manner, using the same methods is the antithesis of inclusive practice.
- Culture and whole school ethos
The most progressive way to embed inclusive practice in schools is through the whole school ethos – those attitudes and practices that take time and care to foster but which reap huge rewards. Perhaps the key ingredient is to include all individuals and groups in discussions about their own learning and representation within schools. Please also consider which positive images and positive role models walls are represented around your school. Is there a genuine diversity within your displays, in your library, of resources? (Please see my previous post if you think this may be tokenism!) Do any disabled parents come in, not specifically to talk about their disability but to help,say, with ICT? Is diversity accepted as valuable or is it seen as a barrier to children doing well?
The uncomfortable truth is that the barriers to inclusion stem principally from the adults, teachers, governors and parents alike. Children don’t have prejudices unless adults show them. As the Council for Disabled Children noted: “It is our attitudes and policies, rather than the physical environment, that can be more likely to restrict and impede learners with a disability”. I would suggest the same is true for all groups, but similarly our attitudes and policies can just as powerfully enhance and promote inclusion and collaborative working.
As educators we can’t right all of society’s wrongs and inequalities. Teachers should not be punished, or thought less of, if pupils across the board do not fulfill the highest expectations. Poverty remains the chief barrier to all children succeeding and we should not let our politicians forget their responsibilities. Racist, homophobic, disablist attitudes are rife outside the school gates. But, as educators we can ensure that no stone is left unturned to make our schools communities which others view as paradigms – places where the worth of every individual is valued with equal honour. What if society at large emulated that?
This is an enormous, overwhelming topic. I have barely skimmed the surface. Please let me know what your experience has been and what you think.
Osler, A. (2005) Teachers, Human Rights and Diversity Runnymede Trust report (2000)
Coles, M. (2008) Every Muslim Child Matters Insted: Equality and Diversity in Education (http://www.insted.co.uk/articles.html) Knowles, G. (ed) (2011) Supporting Inclusive Practice