Inclusion in 2017: Panel with Kenny Frederick @kennygfrederick , Dave Whitaker @davewhitaker246 and Keziah Featherstone @BLC_Head at the Wellington/Telegraph Education Festival 22nd June 2017
Three minutes on inclusion and I have too much to say. I asked a friend whose 15 year old child has special needs and is in a mainstream school. Her perspective on Inclusion in 2017 is that students with special needs all get lumped together in secondary schools. Children with dyslexia, autism, SEMH and other needs are all in a class with children with cognitive difficulties and teachers are focused on simplifying everything, expecting the worst. Even in mixed attainment classes, the “SEN kids” are sat together. Teacher expectations sink to rock bottom as soon as a child is labelled as “special needs”.
We know that there’s a problem with setting and high stakes accountability – poor behaviour in “sink sets”, unacceptable levels of fixed-term exclusions of children with special needs and parents or schools moving children on for “home education” or to attend alternative provision.
There is a skills gap and a communication gap. Can secondary teachers, teaching hundreds of children a week, really engage with a list of twenty recommendations in an educational psychologist’s report, or with mystifying Education, Health and Care Plans? Even if they do, where and when do they learn the skills to put into practice what the professionals advise?
There is quite a movement now for “inclusion units”. I like Paul Dix’s analogy that setting up a unit is like putting a fifth lane on a motorway – when you build them, they get filled up. Nothing moves forwards.
Secondary schools are too busy telling students what they can’t do. We need to focus on what students can do, and on what they might do with the right teaching.
The most important thing that every secondary school must do is re-position their Learning Support department. Our Learning Support departments should be the most expert teachers in the school, training others, engaged with professionals like education and clinical pyschologists and speech and language therapists, working in partnership with special schools to share expertise. We need our Learning Support departments to have sky-high expectations, modelled by the SENCO. Over the years I have seen the remarkable success of students with SEN, for example a student with a statement going to Kings to read Radiography; or the student who grew from hiding under tables in Y7 to succeeding on a Level 3 Animal Care course in Sixth Form; or the agoraphobic student whose love of music, fostered by a teacher who played the guitar, led to further study and playing guitar in pub performances. One thing unites all these success stories: adults who care, who go slightly above and beyond, who consider what is possible and commit to making a difference.
What structures help these adults? Communication and understanding of the children rather than of a labelled need; rock solid behaviour management enforced by senior staff; mixed attainment classes and groups; use of research to identify quality interventions for literacy and numeracy – the Education Endowment Foundation’s work; work with the Educational Psychologist & Speech and Language Therapist to develop practice that works for all children and train teachers in it; quality first teaching by trained and informed teachers supported by expert teaching assistants and a strong pastoral system; partnership working with families.
An inclusion 2017 checklist – how does your school measure up?
1.Are your expectations of children with SEN sky high?
2.Do you have the expertise in school, for example a Lead Teacher for Autism or a bought-in service from a Speech and Language Therapist, to meet all your students’ needs?
3.Is your Learning Support department a well-spring of best practice for all teachers?
4.Are children with special needs positioned carefully in classes where they can best learn? Or dumped in sink sets?
5.Do teachers know how best to teach all their learners?
6.Have teachers stopped talking about special needs, to talk about the children themselves?
7.Do you work hand in hand with parents?
Is this too much to ask of teachers? What about the high achievers? The school I worked in that did this sent 115 students to Russell Group universities in 2015. We need to stop thinking about what we CAN’T do and start thinking about what we CAN do.