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Difference And Diversity In Early Years Settings Education Essay

“We are all different sizes, come from different backgrounds, have different religions – or none at all – are different ages and come from different ethnic groups and different classes.” (London: Pre-school Learning Alliance 1999 p.1.)

This essay will reflect the wide diversity of children, parents and families encountered in early year settings, using popular theories as well personal experience.  Exploring the ethical issues related to difference in relation to personal beliefs and values. It will also evaluate government legislation and initiatives that impact upon diversity issues, identify sources of support, information and resources for managing diversity in early year’s settings and considering how they can be used. 

‘Difference’ is a word that arguably some early year professionals and people fear and hope that they will never have to deal with the issues it raises and wider implications associated. The above quote succinctly sums up what the nature of the world is full of and what children see, hear every day. Why are we sheltering ourselves from difference instead of embracing it? 

Diversity is defined as a “quality of being different or varied, a range of difference”. (Makins 1996 p.157). Professionals should be conscious of all the different types of diversity that they may into contact with in working in early years. Colour, religion and culture, gender, disability, learning styles, personality and socioeconomic. A visible physical diversity doesn’t mean that they are not different, every child is different, and should receive different level of treatment to meet there individual needs.

Children and their families have to encounter diversity throughout their lives together, it is the job of the practitioner to help ease the approach of diversity and try to guide them as professionally as possible. Problems could occur if a certain issue is something that is difficult or against the child’s and parents or carers belief system. Where do we draw the line of what is right and what is wrong, what we should say and what we shouldn’t?

The theory, ‘The Psychodynamic Approach’ Sigmund Freud described it as “the talking cure”, (Pound, 2005), this can be defined as a way of helping people handle emotional problems or disorders by digging into their unconscious though. Freud (1905) “strongly emphasised the importance of early experience and drew attention to the unconscious in relation to the development of personality in young people”. (Pound, 2005).

“Our behaviour and feelings as adults are largely rooted in our early childhood experiences. Relationships are of great importance in determining how we feel and behave. Our behaviour and feelings are strongly affected by our unconscious mind, i.e. mental processes of which we are not consciously aware. These unconscious influences come both from past experiences and also from instincts, with which we are born”. (Jarvis 2001).

Freud’s theory argues, that the morals that stem from our parents will be past down generations not because it is what they concluded but because it is our genetic makeup to believe what our parents believe. Freud’s peer, Jean Piaget, also recognized unconscious development. While Freud was interested in emotional and sexual development, Piaget focused on intellectual development that children can only process new concepts at a particular stage in their development (Linda Pound 2005). One of Piaget theories was the theory of Moral Development in which he explains that there are two different lanes in which a child’s moral reasoning sometimes develops, the Heteronomous phase and the Autonomous phase. The Heteronomous phase is when children understand that there is only one way of seeing and doing things. The Autonomous phase is when children understand that people have different views and values on circumstances. (Walsh, 2008, online). Lev Vygotsky (1978) also believed that children are unconsciously influenced by what they absorb in their early years. His theory of ‘Social and Cognitive Development’ was that children mimic the adults that surround them, he emphasises that “children’s language was social in origin because it arose in interaction between child and others”. (Linda Pound 2005). This means that children’s language is the product from and is an element of social interaction. Vygotsky emphasised the significant importance of families, communities and the involvement with other children. Piaget and Freud believed that knowledge and understanding came from personal experiences, (Linda Pound 2005).

Therefore it is essential that educational practitioners are encouraging children to look at difference and diversity through other individual’s eyes as the children may not have the same encouragement at home.  According to Freud’s theory influences are unconsciously developed at a young age so it would be advantageous to practitioners to promote positive thinking and attitudes towards topics that are uncomfortable to discuss such as disability, race, gender and social background at an early stage. Children will develop a better understanding if these topics are discussed openly and sensibly and honestly rather than keeping them taboo. As practitioners we should support children, parents and families as they encounter and deal with diversity with encouragement and guidance. Hopefully the parent will continue the education in the home setting which is why they to need to be informed.

A part of the EYFS (Early Years Foundation Stage) in the Personal, Social and Emotional development area of learning, to help children develop an awareness of difference in their peers it is encouraged that children establish constructive relationships, develop self esteem in a safe environment and experience a sense of the community. “Children need adults to set a good example and to give them opportunities for interaction with others so that they can develop positive ideas about themselves and others.” (EYFS 2007 p.22).

It is argued that in order for children to understand that people with disabilities or individuals from ethnic backgrounds are different but they shouldn’t be treated differently, children should be able to see and explore these differences by meeting people who are disabled or who come from different backgrounds. It is important that our schools include children from these categories in their classes and that they don’t tiptoe about the subject. Every school will have an Inclusion and Disability policy which refers to the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA) and the DDA 1995 Part 4 (as amended by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act 2001) (SENDA) and takes full notice of the Code of Practice for Schools published by the Disability Rights Commission (2002).

Perception of anti-discriminatory practice is to accept that it is not just for minority parties but truthfully for all children and adults within a setting. “As morality is fundamentally concerned with an obligation to others, children must learn to be attuned not only to their own emotional reactions, but also to those of others”. (Damon 1988, p14)

Every pupil should be able to fully access all areas of the curriculum. The introduction if the Every Child Matters Framework (2004) has allowed for individual learning in all areas of education, some have been positioned higher on the educational programme. This is because of ‘Human Rights’, “all children have the right to learn and play together, children should not be discriminated against for any reason”. (Article 23 and 31 United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (UNCRC) 1989).

The Human Rights Act, (1998) ensures that everyone is treated equal. The TDA (Training and Development Agency for Schools) website states that ‘Education authorities, governing bodies and teachers are bound by many of the provisions of human rights legislation’. (TDA 2010, online). It also comments that every school should have an Equal Opportunities Act that the school will have published, allows children to fare better in inclusive settings, both academically and socially. The policy also states that children should not need to be separated to achieve adequate educational provision, and that inclusive education is a more efficient use of educational resources.  Children also have the right to ‘Social Opportunities’ which inclusion in education is the characteristic of inclusion in society, children need to be involved with their peers around them.

“Inclusion means enabling all students to participate fully in the life and work mainstream settings, whatever their needs....Inclusion may also be seen as a continuing process of breaking down barriers to learning and participation for all children and young people. Segregation, on the other hand; is a recurring tendency to exclude difference.”(CSIE 2002 b; p.1)

Inclusion in mainstream schools is a great idea as it gives children the chance to see and speak to other children who come from different backgrounds or have different beliefs or who are disabled, it also helps those children to enjoy a ‘normal’ life without feeling segregated for being different. But are our schools actually doing this, letting those children take part in all activities?

Watching the DVD series ‘Get Physical’ with Kelly Holmes, (O’Neil and Lent, 2005) it is easy to see a result. The DVD available on Teachers’ TV online shows what Kings Avenue Primary School in Clapham, south London did to improve inclusion within their school. The school has a diverse intake of pupils with widely differing requirements. Implementations have been made by the school for its pupils to abide to the inclusion ethos. At Kings Avenue one of the success stories is the "Russian Workout" dance class, a trained Russian dance tutor comes to the school to teach dance classes. The aim of the scheme is so all children are able to take part in sport whatever their condition and it works.

For 25 years, barriers of learning have been attempted to be removed by education policies for children with special needs so that they are included in mainstream schools. There are some people who are unhappy with how the government are trying to achieve it. Classroom disruption are feared by teachers. Academic standards’ declining are feared by parents with non-disabled children. The most common comment in this debate is to continue sending children that are most severely disabled to special schools. Allot of people believe this is segregation. While others believe it is universal logic.

Baroness Mary Warnock spoke on The Big Debate on Teacher TV about the subject. “The way we're teaching disabled children, she claims, will leave a disastrous legacy." (Lent, 2005).

In the 1978 Warnock report, it condemned segregation, created the term SEN (Special Educational Needs) and established the ‘Statement of Need’, which expanded the range, already there are lots of children within mainstream schools with special needs that were being treated differently. (Warnock, 1978 p.47-49, paragraph 3.42-45).

Mary Warnock (2005) the original architect of the Inclusion Policy, states in her interview on ‘The Big Debate’ with Jonathan Dimbleby, “that Inclusion is actually becoming Integration”.  (Lent 2005).

She also mentions, “That the people, who are being segregated as ‘Different’, are being brought into mainstream schools but aren’t participating in every activity in class or the system isn’t providing a suitable alterative to the activity that everyone can take part in. Inclusion is what should be happening, but what is happening at present is Integration”. (Lent 2005).

For example, a child in a wheel chair cannot take part in a physical education lessons because of their disability coupled with the fact the school does not have the correct facilities. What should be done? If the child is to have the same education as all the other children in his/her class shouldn’t he/she be allowed to take part?  The Inclusion charter (CSIE, 1989) states, ”We fully support an end to all segregated education on the grounds of disability or learning difficulty, as a policy commitment and goal for this country.” So therefore it is the government’s duty to provide that school with the essential facilities for that child to feel the same as everyone else.  Sometimes it is those individuals with “special needs” which are not included by way of the terminology of their name, it could be stated that all individuals have special needs, which pertain solely to them, whereas some need extra support to achieve or become included in the curriculum.

“‘All schools have legal duties not to discriminate against disabled people”, Education and the Disability Discrimination Act (1995) as amended by the Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001). The law is explained through a code of practice which the Disability Rights Commission has produced. Although it will not stand in a tribunal as law, they will have to take into consideration where it is significant. A person who has a physical or mental impairment which has a considerable and enduring difficult effect by their ability to have a ‘normal’ life will be covered by this act.

“All children and adults have the right to evolve and to develop in a context where there is equity and respect for diversity. Children, parents and educators have the right to good quality in early childhood education services, free from any form of - overt and covert, individual and structural - discrimination due to their race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status” (in reference to Article 2, UN-Convention on the Rights of the Child, DECET Mission Statement 2005).

Inclusive practice is not only for children with disabilities, it covers all types of diversity such as gender issues. The key to understanding research about both genders is the nature/nurture debate.

Numerous psychologists argue that gender is the product of environmental influences, the way we are brought up by our parents, guardians, friends and relatives. As believed by Dr John Money (1972), “we are psychosexually neutral at birth, and our gender is a consequence of the nurture we receive as children. A less popular view is that gender is the result of nature, particularly the effects of hormones on the developing brain”. (Kenyon, 2006, online)

Social constructivist Barbara Rogoff, suggests that “the culture in which children grow up (or in other words how they are nurtured) accounts for gender differences”, Rogoff argues that “girls are given more guidance in ‘proper social behaviour’ than boys and that different tasks are usually assigned to children depending on whether they are boys or girls”. (Rogoff 2003 cited in Pound, 2009, p.72).

Inclusive practice would include the gender issue and practitioners should allow all children to play with all types of toys and activities, not to make comments like ‘only girls play with dolls’ or ‘can I have a strong boy to help me carry this box’. If a boy wants to put on a dress in the dressing up area or a girl wants to play with building tools, then let them, encourage positive images of men and women doing traditionally gender specific roles so that children will not get stereotypical ideas of what men and women should do. (Holland, 2003, cited in Pound, 2009).

Penny Holland (2003), an academic leader for Early Childhood Studies, reminds us that young children are “struggling to make sense of what it means to be a boy or girl”. They are “in the progress of formatting gender identity, trying to find, rules that will make them feel that they belong in the gendered world that surrounds them”, (Holland, 2003, cited in Pound, 2009, p.73) Practitioners are also having a difficult deal with how to support the gender issue. Parent’s opinions may differ radically because of their own upbringing and beliefs from those held by teacher and practitioners themselves may find it difficult to settle their own personal beliefs about gender with their colleagues. Still children are copying views that people are not even awake to that they are giving off, it is important not to limit children’s life chances by promoting stereotypical behaviour as there is a wide disparity between the views of parents and those of the practitioners who care for their children.

It could be argued that getting a child a full and happy education could be considered every parents dream and sometimes it is a challenge to get there. Inclusive practise values all children and families. As concerned professionals, we should ask ourselves: Do all the families using an early year’s service or school feel equally welcome and able to access the provision with ease?

A diverse range of requirements needs managing in order to obtain a healthy and fair balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the group or class, it would be unfair and the opposite of inclusive practise if the children with the disabilities or who speak English as a second language starts to receive all the attention. Proponents of inclusive practise maintain that it has long-lasting effects, not just for the children, but also for society in general. It will help eliminate the negative effects of discrimination and allow children to reach their full potential.

The public are becoming more aware of SEN (Special Educational Needs). The Every Child Matters framework maintains to emphasize success and gratification for all, together with pupils with SEN. Barriers in the classroom are being overcome with the help of teachers and teaching assistants, and several understand more about meeting individual needs.

Parents that have any questions or need guidance and support with a child that has SEN are being made aware of the lots of different sources of support, information and resources about managing SEN at home. Every mainstream school in England will have SENCo or Special Needs Co-ordinator, on the staff. Outside of the school there are educational psychologists, they visit the school regularly to support pupils and the adults who work with SEN children. They visit to offer help and advice on a variety of special need problems. The professional are also involved with considering those pupils who may need a Statement of Special Educational Needs. (Burnham, 2007).

Rearing children in all types of practices over time has been influenced by the beliefs of behaviour of children. Cultures and values of people have rooted beliefs but they modify with generation, periods of time and even within aspect culture. Child rearing has also been affected by the needs of life in a particular society, the skills and abilities valued in that society. We live in a multicultural society and must respect other peoples’ belief systems and values.

“Anti-discriminatory practise forms the basis of an environment in which there is no discrimination towards individuals on the basis of race, gender, culture or ethnicity. No adults or children should be victims of discrimination in schools and fair treatment should be given to all individuals. The term ‘inclusion’ is often used when referring to children who have special educational needs, but it is also used in a wider sense to describe equal opportunities for all in the learning environment. It is through the development of trust and positive relationships that children and adults of all backgrounds learn to respect one another”. (Burnham, 2007 p84).

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