Change that leads to better lives

Inclusion – what’s really stopping us?

Recently I spent the day at the Westminster Insight Conference and was struck by the number of times people referred to inclusion, in particular, the challenges that inclusion brings. But I have to ask – is it really that challenging?

Inclusion banner

The conference, entitled ‘The Future of SEND – aspirations, outcomes and best practice’, gave me an opportunity to speak about our learning of what does and doesn’t work to support young people with SEND into positive adult lives. There was a lot packed into one day and inclusion featured heavily throughout a range of topics including: challenges; provision; support; planning; outcome and attainment; strategies; partnership working; supporting SENCO’s careers; quality of EHCP’s and collaborative working.

The key theme seemed to be that people have a different view of what inclusion means. Having had a chance to reflect on this point, I’m not sure why we’re still in that place.
The United Nations Committee diagram below explains very clearly the differences between segregation, integration and inclusion. So why are we still confused?

There has been a lot of focus recently on the number of children and young people (particularly with SEND) being excluded from school, with evidence that shows that almost half of these young people have identified SEND, and possibly a significant number more who haven’t yet been identified.

But the focus is in the wrong place. Surely the focus of solving the exclusions challenge needs to be on how we include children and young people in the first place?

At a time when we are seeing reviews around alternative provision plus a SEND review by the Education Select Committee it matters now more than ever to consider what we need to do to provide an inclusive education system for all children and young people.

At the recent Association of Directors of Children’s Services Conference the Secretary of State for Education, Damian Hinds, spoke of the steady movement away from mainstream school and into specialist, alternative and home provision. He also highlighted the increased rates of exclusion, including schools finding ways to remove pupils without going through the formal exclusion route.

The Secretary of State concluded his speech with the following statement:

“I want to be clear right now: this is not okay. SEND pupils are not someone else’s problem. Every school is a school for pupils with SEND; and every teacher is a teacher of SEND pupils.”

So, what might some of the solutions be?

I have just read A Summary of the Evidence of Inclusive Education submitted by Dr Thomas Hehir – Professor of Practice in Learning Differences (I love that definition) at the Harvard Graduate School of Education.

In the report Hehir and others look at what needs to happen to foster and support inclusive education. Hehir et al developed a set of actions. To summarise, they suggest the following essentials:

  • Establish an expectation for inclusion in public policy - national policy that is endorsed by national leaders that affirms the right of students with disabilities to be included along-side their non-disabled peers.
  • Establish a public campaign to promote inclusive education – one that changes public opinion about the importance of inclusive education, so that long standing myths about disabled students holding back their non-disabled peers are busted to ensure that there is a whole school welcoming approach to all its community.
  • Build accurate data systems – to collect accurate data on how much students with disabilities are able to access general education including how much time is spent in the classroom. This data will help to understand those schools struggling with inclusion and target the right support.
  • Provide a strong training and ongoing professional development programme that supports those working in education so they have the confidence to challenge negative attitudes within their settings but so that they also have the confidence and skills to ensure they utilise the right techniques to enable students with disabilities to learn and achieve. Ensure that educators understand diversity and the strengths and weaknesses of all their students.
  • Create universal best practice around inclusion and schools that can model and support others to move them forward.
  • Develop the post 16 offer to ensure positive pathways to employment for all young people.
  • Provide support and training to parents who are seeking inclusive schools for their children and young people.

With all of the information available, we should have complete consensus of what Inclusion is and how it can be achieved. So, is the problem really one of differences in culture and values?

As part of our work we have visited schools that fundamentally believe that they are a community school for all children. They have strong leaders who have great values and realise that inclusion has a positive impact on everyone. In contrast to this we have also been to schools who do not believe that any of their students with SEND will ever manage to hold down a job and expect them to be dependent on service land for the rest of their lives. This feels like a self-fulfilling prophecy to me.

We desperately need a cross government inclusion policy that supports children with SEND to be included from the earliest years and in every situation. Until our society deems every child and young person to have the same rights, aspirations, opportunities and worth, many young people will be prevented from growing into rounded and happy adults that live inclusively in our communities.

This blog was first published on the Preparing for Adulthood Website

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