Tag Archives: engagement

Inclusion and “Every child matters”…or do some matter more than others?

  • What is inclusion?

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.

  • Equal moral worth

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)

  • Principle of difference

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). 

  • Recognising racism –
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.

  • Inclusion in schools

 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.

  • Why it’s important

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. 

  • What are we to do?

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?”)

  • Curriculum

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?

  • Barriers
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.

  • Conclusion

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


Equality? The value of a life

post by Mary Young (@maryatedji) – Co Director of Edjitraining, author of the seminal Global Citizenship: The Handbook for Primary Teaching

Just thinking about the situation in South Sudan/North Kenya and how its scant coverage is a clear illustration of the fact that, despite all we say or hope, people’s lives across the globe are simply not valued equally.

Media reports that the situation was about to, ‘become a catastrophe’ seem to have missed the point that it already is one, and in fact has been one for some time for those concerned. This also raises issues about at what point the world’s media becomes (albeit fleetingly) interested in a story…some years ago I remember hearing a CNN reporter justifying not going in to cover a situation as there were, ‘not enough people on the point of death’  for the coverage to be newsworthy at that time.

The figures from the terrorist attacks in the USA as reported in New Internationalist in November 2001 also make the point about inequity…

On September 11th 2001, approx 3000 people were killed in USA: we know the vast majority of their names and much about them.

However, elsewhere on the planet on September 11th 2001 (aggregated figures) approx 2600 children died of measles; 6000 people died of diarrhoea and 24,000 people died of hunger, and those deaths have been repeated each day since. How many of those people’s names are we familiar with?

Recasting the Golden Rule – Global Citizenship

  • The Golden Rule

Great rule of thumb – just it’s so trite, especially when said in that slightly patronising way teachers reserve for their pet pocket beliefs…”Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself”.

Or you can put it negatively: “Don’t treat others in ways that you would not like to be treated”.

These ideas, or variations on them, are found in belief systems across the world and throughout the ages: Ancient Babylon, Greece, Egypt and China; Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Baha’i, Hinduism, Confucianism, Jainism, Sikhism… Everybody espouses the Golden Rule as central to harmonious living – a building block for a functioning society.

  • Let’s recast it

But…the person deciding what is or isn’t ok is “you”.

What if the rule stated: “Treat others as THEY want to be treated”. 

Just consider the subtle but crucial difference between that and the injunction to treat others as you want to be treated.

There’s a potential problem, as Moira (@globaldimension) perfectly reasonably pointed out, namely that there is a risk of huge assumptions being made about how others want to be treated. My answer is simply – then you’d have to work a little to find out how others did want to be treated. Ask them. They would be required to do the same to you.

  • Your favourite aunt

Imagine for a moment going to the home of your favourite elderly aunt, living on her own in her spotless home. When you visit, whose rules do you abide by? Hers, obviously. You mind your language, behave politely, take care not to put your feet on the sofa. Not because that is how you want to be treated in your home (you may not care about those things), but because you are treating your aunt as SHE wants to be treated.

Why can’t we show exactly the same repect and courtesy to everyone (sadists and psychopaths excepted)? We would not be obliged to act identically to others, but we would need to take their views into account when choosing ourselves how to act. This does not in any way prohibit disagreement, but it probably does proscribe the way that disagreement is expressed. Might this not provide a step forward in terms of multicultural understanding and cooperative living?

What do you think? What have I not thought through?

This idea was brought to my attention by my brilliant colleague Mary Young, having heard it said by Jane Elliot ( of the famous blue eyes/brown eyes experiments in schools).

Raise engagement and standards will follow

  • High expectations are good

Who seriously argues against this? We all know how it feels to be trusted to perform well and examples of pupils attaining highly thanks to expert teaching and high expectation are legion. Low expectations are patronising and demeaning. Sometimes they are downright racist.

  •  Raise GCSE results

But are Michael Gove’s latest ideas on raising GCSE targets for secondary schools really going to improve the education system in the UK? Whilst it is appalling that so many pupils leave school without a satisfactory level in English or Maths, additional pressure to succeed in the high stakes test is misguided. The motivation for better scores comes from the wish for UK pupils to succeed in the international comparison tests, PISA for example. Why? So our students prove themselves competitive.

American model

But…while we all want our children to be employable, this narrowly mechanistic view of teaching and learning is leading us into a cul-de-sac. Look to the US. Their “No child left behind policy”, so detested by the teachers who are forced to implement it, has led to a dystopia of inappropriate standardised tests, performance related assessment of teachers, teaching to tests, cheating in tests, less collaboration between teachers… Is this what we want?

  • Let’s pause

Standards are important. I’m not advocating a lack of transparency or an “anything goes” policy in the classroom. Let’s use everything we have to improve our children’s learning. Start with John Hattie’s “Visible Learning”,  in which he has analysed what really succeeds in the classroom (NO 1: effective teacher feedback!)…but the obsession with results as the focus is running fast in the wrong direction.

  • Pupil engagement

First, let us engage the students in their learning. This isn’t going to happen with a stronger emphasis on high stakes testing, which we know has the tendency to narrow the curriculum. Students’ chief complaint is that their learning is removed from the real world. So let’s blur the boundaries between school and real life. Engage them in issues that matter and are relevant.

And what’s the most important issue right now? Answer: How to live in a sustainable manner. Make that the cornerstone of your education policy, Mr Gove. Students are interested in it because it connects to their life. In high performing Canada, pupil engagement was as low as 39% but after reorienting to address sustainability, that figure rose to…62%!

And if they’re interested, the results will follow.