Tag Archives: schools

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


Tackle adversity with your students – they will surprise you

  • Sensitive issues and children

With the very best of intentions, my family decided that I should not attend my mother’s funeral, who died when I was 10. The thinking was that the distress would outweigh the benefits of being present. This was in the early 70’s and no doubt attitudes have changed since then, but from my point of view, this was the worst possible decision. My family sought the best for me, but I was more resilient than they feared and suffered for a long time from not having been able to take part in that mourning ritual.

This may have informed my attitude to talking about sensitive and potentially upsetting matters with our students.

“Australian children are being terrified by climate change lessons” warned the dramatic headline in the Sydney Daily Telegraph.

Whilst this article undoubtedly forms part of the barrage of climate change scepticism, it raises an important issue that educators need to address. The notion that children need to be protected from the adult world is commonly held. They are seen as by some as “vulnerable dependents”, in a state of innocence, who should remain untouched by the difficult and frightening challenges of the real world.

I appreciate that not all teachers or parents share this view. As Alice Bell has written, children’s relationship to science learning is complex. But there is a significant proportion of educators who believe that children of primary school age need to be protected in order that they can flourish.

I believe this is fundamentally misguided. The impulse comes from good motives, but it does a disservice to pupils and their development. Children’s concerns are not addressed by failing to deal with them, by sweeping them under the carpet. Those concerns are better addressed by tackling the fears head on, with sensitivity of course, but ultimately with a message of hope. And there is always a hopeful message that can be found.

  • The lesson of paperclips

The most inspiring example I have seen recently is in the film “Paperclips”, which documents the true story of teachers in a high school in rural Tennessee, who taught a topic on the Holocaust. They wanted to tackle the broad issue of diversity and intolerance in a community that was overwhelmingly white, Anglo Saxon and Protestant.

Early on, a student asked what 6 million Jewish victims meant, because he couldn’t conceive of such a number. After self organised research, the pupils decided to collect 6 million paperclips to represent the victims (inspired by Norwegians during the war, who had worn paperclips as a silent protest against the Nazis).

You need to watch the film to get a sense of the power of the learning that took place. But one incident stood out for me. An American soldier present at the liberation of the Mauthausen concentration camp, came across an emaciated girl there with beautiful eyes, appearing perhaps more striking because she was so thin. She made contact with him, kissed his hands and told her his name.

The soldier was moved, went off to complete his duties and returned an hour later to learn that the girl had died. He kept this incident to himself, unable to speak of it even to his wife or children, but when he learned of the school in Whitwell, Tennessee who were collecting paperclips he sent them one in memory of the girl and wrote to them of the incident.

The wonderful, uplifting thing was, as he told the filmmakers, that he imagined that the girl’s soul or an essence of her anyway, was not left alone in an Austrian concentration camp, but had been adopted and laid to rest, to be tended by caring school children who honoured her.

Out of the ashes of the Holocaust with its unspeakable inhumanity rose something good, hopeful, nurturing, beautiful even. Out of the most evil smelling shitheap, things can grow.

If we are capable of finding a message of hope and optimism out of the Holocaust, surely we can do the same with other challenges we currently face. First though, we need to have faith in our pupils to handle it.

Miserable but safe…We can do better by our children

The  joke, usually with Jewish mother as protagonist, goes something like this…

Mother and child on the beach. “Put on your hat…Let me put on more suncream on your arms…and legs…Watch out for the hot sand…But don’t catch a chill…Come here…Now! Look,you nearly fell in the sea…not with that boy, he’s dirty…The sun’s too hot, come under the shade…Cover yourself…not like that, like this…Now go and play”

 “Oi”, she observes to her beach neighbour as her son totters away, “such a nervous child!”

  • Elf ‘n safety

Are we not doing something similar to our children as we watch anxiously over them and determine with iron certainty what is or isn’t good for them? Two apparently unrelated articles in the Guardian caught my eye.  Both go to the question about what it is appropriate for children to contemplate in educational settings. What is it ok to teach about and what is beyond the pale?

 In Tim Gill’s article “The end of zero risk in childhood”   he cites the  head of the Health and Safety Executive, Judith Hackitt :

the creeping culture of risk aversion puts at risk children’s preparation for adult life“.

A combination of factors – including sensationalist reporting, cowering or lazy teachers, bureaucrats, short term political vision together with Americanisation of our legal practice and insurance companies in on the act – all have led to a  “health and safety culture”. But in the UK understandable concerns about children’s wellbeing have been taken up to and beyond their logical conclusion. Now we are at the point where there is zero tolerance of risk. Hence Judith Hackitt’s remarks.

As Tim Gill reports, we do children no favours by bubble wrapping them so they do not encounter risk. This does not prepare them for anything. Treating children as “irredeemably stupid, as fragile as china plates, and utterly unable to learn from their mistakes” does not protect them; it leaves them vulnerable and ill prepared for assessing risk, which is after all, a daily fact of life.

In a UNICEF 2007 comparative survey of OECD countries measuring children’s wellbeing, UK children came second to last in terms of subjective well being, but did moderately well in “health and safety”. In other words our children are miserable, but pretty safe!

  • Same sex relationships – what’s the problem?

Then there was the report of the Billy Elliot writer, Lee Hall, who has spent the last year working on a community in Bridlington involving 400 people of all ages. Sounds like a great project. One of the characters is gay. As a consequence, one of the Primary schools has withdrawn their support, notwithstanding efforts to conciliate.

What is the fear? Really, what is the problem? Same sex relationships are a part of our society. Not only are they within the law, Equalities legislation dictates that no discrimination should be suffered by anyone because of their sexuality. I have noticed, as I support schools in implementing Global Citizenship, that dealing with same sex relationships is particularly challenging for some adults, who think it is an inappropriate topic to be discussing with children, especially young ones.

But when we dig a little deeper, the primary concern is that same sex relationships are confused, in the minds of those who find this subject distateful, with sex. Why does that misconception persist? Surely teachers would no more discuss sex between same sex couples as between heterosexuals. The teaching issue is simply about the diversity of loving relationships that exist in every town and probably village in the country. Whether or not individual teachers engage in same sex relationships is not the question. Children will not become infected by discussion of relationships – they merely become more aware. It may even help them stop using “gay” as a derogatory term. It certainly will raise the esteem of those children, who through no active choice of their own, are gay. And isn’t it our duty to enable all the children in our charge to flourish? How can we achieve that if we do not allow children to feel a sense of self worth?

  • Pupils’ concerns

As I’ve said before, pupils have questions and concerns. They are by nature curious. We do them a disservice if we silence or stifle their innate curiosity or fail to answer their questions, however crass they may appear. Sweeping difficult or contested issues under the carpet does not make them disappear…they resurface as inevitably as prejudice follows ignorance.

Children are so much more than merely vulnerable dependents. So have the courage to let your pupils explore and take risks, ask difficult questions and be prepared to tackle those discussions with an openness and honesty that models acceptance of our diverse community.

Please let me know what you think.

Casual racism in schools – are we tackling it effectively? #ukedchat #esdgc

Things have changed since the dark days of the Seventies – mostly for the better as far as uninhibited racist attitudes are concerned. Both anti-racist legislation and that strain of Britishness that is essentially accepting of diversity mean that we no longer see “no blacks, no Irish, no dogs” on adverts for rented accommodation.

  • Complacency

But there really is no room for complacency. We all harbour false assumptions about people not like ourselves. Some are innocent, others less so. I can’t help feeling that the government’s Prevent strategy was based on an exaggerated, distorted  and incomplete perception of the enormously diverse nature of Muslims in this country. To base a policy on extremism fixated on one group within society was bound to prove counterproductive. This was an issue in which all of our attitudes needed to be examined. Casual, ill-informed Islamophobia is unpleasantly rife.

  • Institutionalised racism

And attitudes towards black students at school have mutated, not always for the better. Subtler, less accountable forms of institutionalised racism have emerged. Why is it that black african and African Caribbean pupils perform on a par with their peers from other heritages at Key Stage 1 but underperform at GSCE level? Is this all the fault of the individual pupils and their families? Really? Do we as educators not need to question whether the curriculum speaks to people of all heritages? Are those people who do not count themselves as white British  represented in our curriculum, displays, student councils, governor panels  openly, positively, not stereotypically? Only sometimes…

The case of the black pupil, refused admission from a school for his corn-row hairstyle reveals assumptions about what it means to be British. The head teacher justified the exclusion as follows:

“…if we were to permit the wearing [of] any particular non-traditional haircut, such as cornrows, this would lead to huge pressure to unravel the strict policy that we have adopted, and which is a vital part of our success in keeping out of our school influences which have no place there – gang culture and pop culture.”

Hannah Pool, in her great article, deals powerfully with the underlying assumptions being made here. The effect though on pupils, whose very identity are implicitly excluded from the notion of Britishness inevitably leads to a sense of withdrawal from schooling.

  • Growing anti-Semitism

Anecdotally, I understand that there has been a resurgence in casual anti-Semitic language in schools. In the same way that “gay” is routinely used as a way of demeaning something, “Oh, Maths is so gay”, the epithet “Jew” is being used similarly…and not just to signify, as it did in my school days, tight with money. In the context of public figures becoming increasingly uninhibited about voicing their ignorant, crude anti-Semitism (Mel Gibson, John Galliano, Julian Assange…belatedly retracted…Charlie Sheen etc etc) there is a danger that we allow a culture to develop where this is OK.

This is a good short video by kickitout.org dealing with the “Y” word.

  • Inadequacy of teacher training on racism

The place where all of this needs to be tackled, with a zero tolerance approach, is in schools. To ignore it, or dismiss it as youthful banter, is as good as condoning it. Unfortunately, teachers are given either inadequate, or more usually, no training in how to deal effectively with race hate incidents. “Just ignore them” is not the way to deal with the problem. There are loads of good organisations and websites dealing with issues of racism for schools but don’t underestimate the need for training… and self awareness.

Let’s accord this issue the priority it deserves. It will pay dividends, not only in terms of community cohesion, but in the engagement of all our pupils to their fullest.

Have I got this wrong? Please share your views.

Learning – time to concentrate on what’s important

I really need to be persuaded that we should spend more time, in education, thinking about our assessment data than the stuff we should be learning about in the first place. Of course, assessment is a vital component of teaching and learning – but our obsession with it distracts from more urgent questions. This is an extract from a recent report I wrote, aimed at school leaders in the UK:

 “…The prevailing view of education stresses the importance of forming better individuals in order to produce a better world. Crucially, however, it is clear that the looming challenges of the next century cannot be solved by individuals, whatever their sensitivities, acting in an atomised way; politically aware communities of people acting collaboratively will be required. That takes practice – and school is where it should happen. We deny students the opportunity to become collaborative and active citizens, voicing their critical views about real world issues, at our peril.

“…I urge you to continue your opposition to the assessment culture, the tail which is wagging the educational dog. If only this vice like grip could be loosened, perhaps much that is creative would follow. Summative assessment records have their limited place but publishing results in league tables, whether national SATS scores or international test results such as PISA have had profoundly regressive effects on teaching and learning and are particularly inimical to Education for sustainability (EfS). They have led to a narrowing of learning as staff teach to the tests and subjects are divided into core and “others”. Although the interim report into assessment at Key Stage 2 conducted by Lord Bew states that “good academic outcomes do not have to come at the expense of a narrowing of the curriculum”[i], my experience, shared by many colleagues, is that a broad and balanced curriculum tends to suffer. Those schools without a confident grasp of EfS issues, tend to jettison it at the first sign of stress.

The American experience is one in which high stakes standardised testing holds sway, reinforced by performance related pay for teachers, which in turn has led to rises in cheating in tests and anti-collaborative practices amongst demoralised teachers. You need only follow Diane Ravitch (@DianeRavitch) and likeminded educationalists on Twitter to glean that this is a dystopia we would do well to avoid. Indeed, Finland, which ironically comes out top in the PISA tests sets minimal store by high stakes testing[ii]. The emphasis placed on the EBaac is evidence that EfS will always come a distant second to an education system built on high stakes testing preparing students for the job market. If [it’s right that] schools cannot be changed without the establishment of “collaborative cultures”,[iii] a principle at the core of EfS, then the high stakes assessment programme actively prevents this.”

So that’s what I said. What’s your view?

[i] BEW, P. (2011) Review of Key Stage 2 testing, assessment and accountability-Progress Report [Accessed 12.04.11]

[ii] HORN, J. (27.11.06) Finns finish first without high stakes testing [online] http://www.schoolsmatter.info/2006/11/finns-finish-first-without-high-stakes.html [10.05.11]

[iii] BLENKIN, G., EDWARDS, G. and KELLY, A. (1992) ‘Recent and emergent theoretical perspectives.’ Extract from Chapter 2 in Change and the Curriculum, Paul Chapman Publishing In GRUNSELL, A. and WADE, R. (eds) (2000) p147 Unit 2 Reader, Processes and Management of Change. London: Distance Learning Centre, South Bank University.

Global Citizenship – first principles for educators

Supporting schools seeking to promote Global Citizenship, both in the curriculum and as a whole school ethos, we’ve found that the following issues are key to success.

  • Promote critical thinking

Whether through P4C (Philosophy for children) or simply asking open ended questions to penetrate superficial ideas, critical thinking is the bedrock of any profound learning. I’ve always thought it’s hard to be racist if you employ critical thinking, especially if you practice it from a very young age. So  key questions in response to any opinion might be “What is your evidence for that?”  or“Can you think of any counter example?”

  • Challenge assumed knowledge and notions of what is normal

After all, what is normal? We tend to assume that our own world view is the default option. Consider the maps of the world that you probably have on display -The Mercator projection. It may have pictures on it. It’s got Europe slap bang in the middle, much bigger in comparison to, say, Africa than in reality. But have you tried displaying a map that has the Pacific at its centre, or the Arctic circle, or the Peter’s projection with South Africa at the top? These are just as valid world views…Imagine what the implications are for your own view of the world, or any given topic.

  • Recognise and challenge stereotypes

Obviously try to avoid “all” or “always” when describing a group of people. Try invariably to show a balance of images or objects if you are exploring distant localities, for example. Yes, there is abject poverty in parts of Africa, but do you routinely show the airports, hospitals, science labs, state of the art football stadia etc etc.? When you show pictures of Islam, do you show Nicolas Anelka as well as a bearded imam?

  • Represent diversity in our society

Check out, just as an example, any advert for an HE college from your local paper. Who is missing? Try this with a brochure for the National Trust. There is always a discussion to be had about tokenism, but consider whether you would want to see yourself represented, and apply that thinking as widely as possible. Now look at your displays, school council, governors…Who is represented and who’s missing?

  • Link local and global issues

Start simply with this – Find first the connections between you and the person depicted in the picture, for example. Seeek similarities before differences. This can be with younger children the fact we have hair, or skin or that we breathe the same air. When you use objects to explore this (a mobile phone or T-shirt), it’s not long before you could be exploring questions of conditions of manufacture, water footprint, trade inequality -real, interesting for your pupils and directly relevant to their future. This leads directly to more purposeful writing too…

  • Move beyond recycling and walk to school

Schools are increasingly addressing sustainability issues, especially in this UN decade of education for sustainable development. But we really need to up our game … If climate change is the real challenge for coming generations, shouldn’t we be teaching and learning much more meaningfully about how to live in a sustainable manner? More about this for another post I think.

Thanks as ever to my brilliant colleagues, Mary Young (@maryatedji) and Dan Sanders for their ideas, which I shamelessly use. Please let me know your views, so we can debate and add them…