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Key Priority Within Scottish Education Education Essay

Education Scotland makes certain inclusion is a key priority within Scottish education. The purpose of the writing is to discuss in detail why inclusion takes precedence and what the significant change in meaning proposes for schools and teachers today. In order to do this effectively, the writing will demonstrate an understanding of the concept of an ‘inclusive school’ and what exactly it entails. Particular aspects of an ‘inclusive school’ will be considered, such as, the curriculum, disability, behaviour management and lifestyle of gypsy and travelling families. These aspects will be examined thoroughly to suggest implications for me as an individual teacher. It is necessary to analyse the professional impact of inclusion policies and draw on placement experience, offering exemplification of how inclusion was reflected. Throughout, findings from literature and other sources will be referred to in order to justify the piece of writing, informing discussion and argument.

In previous years there has been a growing debate regarding the meaning of ‘inclusion’. The original meaning was solely based on children who a disability or learning need. The term ‘special educational needs’ (SEN) was established by the 1978 Warnock Report (Department for Education and Science (DES), 1978) and was seen as a more acceptable way of viewing children, than the earlier definition of ‘handicaps’ which derived from the Education (Mentally Handicapped Children) (Scotland) Act 1974.

The expressions ‘integration’ or ‘mainstreaming’ were used to direct the attention to children with SEN who were placed in mainstream schools. Thus, came the idea from Warnock (DES, 1978) who believed there were three key types of integration. These were, locational, social and functional (DES, 1978). ‘Locational’ was when children with SEN were placed in a unit/base within a mainstream school, however were distanced from the mainstream children. ‘Social’ was seen to be when children with SEN were integrated with mainstream children for social events, but were separated for the rest of the time. Lastly, ‘functional’ was where children, regardless of disability, were located in their local mainstream school and placed in the same classroom as their mainstream peers.

Shortly afterwards, advances meant that the term ‘integration’ was used more widely to describe provision rather than the three key types defined in the Warnock Report (DES, 1978). This stemmed further controversy concerning the exact meaning of ‘integration’. The term was criticised and was later claimed that integration was not anxious with the worth of children’s experiences in mainstream schools but much rather the inclusive pedagogy (Farrell and Ainscow 2002). While children were included in the school environment, the principles of an ‘inclusive school’ were not meeting their purpose. Allan (2008), as cited by Bryce and Humes (2008) argued that even children in mainstream schools could be ‘segregated’ (feel isolated) within a classroom, which posed the question, ‘how were teachers to know if children’s needs were met adequately?’

For several reasons, the term SEN was emphasised which lead to a more common way in describing the degree to which a child who had SEN, was truly ‘integrated’ within mainstream schools (Farrell and Ainscow, 2002). In this sense, the term signified the degree to which a school was welcoming and valued individual contributions. Inclusion, therefore, had to more effective in allowing all children to be included and participate fully in the learning environment in order for individual learning needs to be met. Within my placement school there were three supported classes where all experiences were catered for individual children’s needs. Staff worked effectively to ensure all children from the supported classes attended appropriate mainstream classes. For example, one boy in the supported class 7/6/5 attended Primary 4 on a Wednesday morning for Maths. Unfortunately, several schools have not yet moved with the times and still believe children with a disability or who have severe learning difficulties must be segregated from their mainstream peers (Ekens and Grimes, 2009). I will ensure my positive attitude to this shines through and everything possible is done to include and meet children’s needs.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was established in 1989 and was the first legislative document to deal with the rights of the child globally. The agreement has 54 articles which highlight the importance of human rights. Many of the rights are centred on inclusion, particular within education. Two articles that emphasise this are article 28 and 29 which give children the entitlement to an education and affirm that education ought to increase children’s talents in enabling them to reach their full potential. It is evident from placement experience how difficult it is for teachers to progress all children to allow them to reach their full potential. This is due to the wide range of abilities there is within any one classroom. Although this is the aim for all teachers, it is a compound matter that requires great skill in achieving (Loreman, Deppeler and Harvey, 2009).

Coinciding with the UNCRC (1989), the Standards in Scotland’s Schools Etc. (Scotland) Act 2000 made clear all children go to mainstream schools unless factors, such as unsuitability, harmfulness to other children or cost prohibited children in doing so. The Act had many similarities with the UNCRC (1989); however the main change was that it passed on the right to children to have a say in their education rather than it solely being down to their parents/carers having the decision. Unlike the Warnock Report (DES, 1978) these two pieces of legislation moved away from ‘integration’ and concentrated more on ‘inclusion’. It was clear from this that forthcoming legislation was considering the concept of ‘inclusion’ much wider than just disability.

Count Us In: Achieving Inclusion in Scottish Schools (Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education (HMIE), 2003) was one of the forthcoming documents to have a different perspective. The report stressed the prominence of inclusion being a ‘key priority’ within Scottish education. Throughout the report, suggestions are given to teachers on how to approach inclusion and features of what makes an ‘inclusive school’ are stated. One feature focuses on providing an inclusive curriculum for all children using the support from services and outer agencies to help enhance learning. Both Cline and Frederickson (2009) also believe this is a significant factor in developing an inclusive school. The Scottish curriculum, Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) (Scottish Government, 2007) caters for children aged from three to eighteen and provides a smooth and seamless transition from sector to sector. Every sector use the same curriculum which not only is inclusive for children but also for staff as this is maintained right through to secondary school. Those who are involved in children’s learning collaborate effectively ensuring previous learning is built upon, making transition and learning as inclusive as possible (Scottish Government, 2007). This links with the principle ‘coherence’ of CfE (Scottish Government, 2007) which stresses the importance of learning being clearly connected and developed from previous experiences. Reeves and Fox (2008) however, disagree with the curriculum being inclusive in this sense as they say that it is school practices that influence teacher’s attitudes. If schools disregard collaborative approaches as an effective step to successful transition then they will take no pride in doing so, which results in the curriculum being far from inclusive. Having awareness of the benefits, I will endeavour to cooperate with other professionals to make children’s transitions as efficient as possible.

Whilst on placement and cooperating with members of staff, it was unmistakable that Reeves and Fox’s (2008) comment on school practices reflected their positive attitude to working alongside others to ensure smooth transitions from classrooms or between establishments were made. On a regular basis, teacher’s liaised with other teacher’s and professionals to gain further knowledge about children’s abilities. At the end of the academic year forthcoming teachers are given a report alongside forward plans from the previous teacher. A discussion day is also set aside for teachers and other professionals to share information about children and their previous learning. This enables teachers to fulfil the principle of ‘coherence’ within CfE (Scottish Government, 2007) and do everything possible in making children’s transitions inclusive and flawless. It was also discussed that the classroom assistant in Primary 6/5 assisting with a boy who has autism will be full-time in the class he is in next year. This demonstrates consistency and coherence for this particular child.

Another way that the curriculum is inclusive as it has a wide range of experiences and outcomes from different curricular areas which meet the needs of all learners. This allows children to achieve the best that they can in life with experiences that help further develop their learning needs (Scottish Government, 2007). According to Focusing on Inclusion and the Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004: A Paper for Professional Reflection (2006), one of the key aims in achieving an ‘inclusive school’ is giving teachers free will to modify learning to the individual needs of children. Loreman, Deppeler and Harvey (2009) trust that in order to plan appropriate learning experiences for children, observation is the key to success. Throughout placement, the teacher and I observed individuals during lessons in order to establish if they had achieved their learning intention or not, and why? This information was then used to plan suitable learning experiences which built on previous knowledge. Having a class who have a wide range of abilities, it is extremely difficult to observe and assess every child’s learning. It may also be inevitable if teachers are in a large sized class where their time with children may be restricted. It is challenging to achieve inclusion in regards to catering for every child’s needs as Florian (2012) says, most teachers take the easy option and plan what is available for all children instead of accommodating individual needs. Regardless of class size or any other issues that arise, I will endeavour to meet all children’s needs as much as possible.

Education Scotland (2012) explains that not only do teachers have to plan exciting and motivating learning experiences for children, they must ensure children are given choice, in order to fulfil the requirements of an ‘inclusive school’. However, with Florian’s (2012) idea mentioned above, it could be questioned, if teachers are providing children with planned learning experiences, are children given choice? Teachers can get into a routine where they continuously make choices for children, which hinder a truly inclusive curriculum. Teachers therefore, need to be fully aware of their responsibility within inclusive school practices and be mindful of inclusion being a key priority within Scottish education (Beacham and Rouse, 2012). In my placement school, the children in Primary 5 were given choice daily through the order they did their work, extension tasks, roles within the classroom, what they would like to do for their topic and through choosing their own active learning approaches. The class teacher included everyone through the use of lollipop sticks which had children’s names on them. If children were chosen and didn’t want to speak out, they could phone a friend (choose another child in the class to help them). This helped her ask questions to gain knowledge of what the children wanted to do.

Conversely, there have been many debates around the ‘inclusiveness’ of CfE (Scottish Government, 2007). Cassidy (2008), as cited by Bryce and Humes (2008) voices her opinion that children with complex learning difficulties or who have a disability may not be able to make choices alone, which therefore defeats the purpose of an ‘inclusive curriculum’. Several children may need support in making choices which may result in decisions being made by teachers or other professionals. With this proposal, Scottish education may have to reflect on the feasibility for all children to make choices regarding their learning. Allan (2008), as cited by Byrce and Humes (2008) disputes, after taking all of the above into consideration, even although CfE (Scottish Government, 2007) does not clearly mention ‘inclusion’, the purpose of the curriculum, outlined through the four capacities, demonstrate the need for both an ‘inclusive curriculum’ and an ‘inclusive education’. These capacities inspire children to become: ‘Successful learners’, ‘Confidence individuals’, ‘Responsible citizens’ and ‘Effective learners’ (Scottish Government, 2009, p.1).

Considering the curriculum and the role of the teacher in developing/upholding an ‘inclusive school’, it is also important to consider the issue hindering many schools in becoming inclusive – additional support needs (ASN). The Education (Additional Support for Learning) (Scotland) Act 2004 introduced the new term ‘ASN’ which replaced the existing terminology, ‘special educational needs’. The legal definition of ASN is outlined by Supporting Children’s Learning Code of Practice (Scottish Government, 2010, p.20) and states ‘A child or young person is said to have ‘ASN if they need more – or different support – to what is normally provided in schools or pre-schools to children of the same age’. It was clear the definition was broadened to include a wide range of children that experience barriers to learning instead of maintaining a narrowed focus on disability and severe learning needs. The Act also placed lawful duty on local authorities to recognise and meet the needs of learners requiring additional support (Scottish Executive, 2004). Any additional need a child may have will be encompassed within the four main factors that The Supporting Children’s Learning Code of Practice (Scottish Government, 2010, p.24) summarise as ‘learning environment, family circumstances, disability or health need and social and emotional factors’. These areas cover a range of needs which most children in their academic schooling will at some point experience, whether it is a temporary medical difficulty or bereavement (Riddell and Weedon, 2009). Cigman (2007) encourages teachers to be cognisant that the support given to one child with ASN may not work for another child who is experiencing similar difficulties.

When considering ASN, in particular disability or health, the dominant models, the medical and social model explain two very different ways of thinking about these. The medical model deems disability a problem of the individual. Mitra (2006) gives the example of a person who has a life-long injury and requires some sort of support, such as a wheelchair will never be ‘well’ again. The model has been widely criticised as having a very negative perception on people who are unable to operate the same way as a ‘normal’ person and would most definitely not be used as ‘inclusive practice’ (Amundson, 2000, as cited by Mitra, 2006). If teachers adopt this model of thinking, this can be a challenge for them, especially if particular attitudes are formed and lack of confidence in putting forward school practices are existent.

The social model on the other hand has a very different view and believes disability is not a feature of a person; instead it is shaped by the environment. Rix et al (2010) trusts that the disability is forced on top of their impairments by the way people socially exclude them from society. It is certain that the social model is much more inclusive as it states the environment should be adapted to suit the needs of the person rather than the person having to adapt to suit the environment (Mitra, 2006).

Mastropieri and Scruggs (2004) agree with Mitra (2006) and the social models view and believe another feature of an ‘inclusive school’ is the physical layout of the classrooms. Attention must be given to ensure classrooms are easily accessible without any restrictions. Teachers have to consider the space where furniture and resources are placed. Loreman, Deppeler and Harvey (2009) draw attention to it being much easier to provide space in a larger classroom than it is in a smaller classroom. More consideration has to be taken for children who require wheelchairs, for example, tables and worktops must be at an appropriate height, where children can access jotters and resources etc. Likewise, if children have visual impairments the regular reorganisation of furniture should be prevented (Boer, Piji and Minnaert, 2010).

Loreman, Deppeler and Harvey (2009) affirm that accessibility should not just end in the classrooms but should also be considered throughout the school environment. Ramps, lifts and toilets may be placed in schools to meet the needs of everyone. Mastropieri and Scruggs (2004) emphasise the importance of drinking fountains being at a reasonable height and features of the school being bright and identifiable for children with visual impairments.

Therefore, in order for schools to fully embrace inclusion, the social model of thinking should be reflected. In my placement school, the three supported classes each had a quiet room integrated, which was designed to help children wind down and relax. Each room was filled with sensory objects, such as lamps, bean bags, cushions and soft toys. In every other class, there were quiet areas where children could go and sit if they needed time out. A ramp was located at the front of the school, which allowed easy access to and from the playground, three wheelchair toilets were placed both upstairs and downstairs and there was a lift. The environment was therefore modified to ensure individuals felt more included. Although the change in the environment can be argued that children were being ‘segregated’ and in some way excluded from their peers. Thomas and Loxley (2007, p.78) disagree, and fully support the social model of thinking as they state ‘Recognition of difference is not necessarily anti-inclusional’. I will take the advice from Thomas and Loxley in my practice and assure that everyone is included.

Getting it Right for Every Child (GIRFEC) (Scottish Government, 2008) emphasise the importance of providing children with appropriate additional support, through one of its well-being indicators, titled ‘Included’. In placement, the school had an Inclusion teacher who was in the school on a Monday to a Wednesday afternoon. She circled all classes, in particular the three supported classes, giving advice and sharing strategies with teachers on how to incorporate children into the classroom. She also provided children with support which enhanced their learning. A child in Primary 5 who struggled with reading was given extra support daily by a reading specialist and another child who was very able in maths was supported by the Depute Head Teacher on a Thursday morning. Support, however is not always available and is commonly due to funding. This can have a detrimental impact on the extent to which schools are inclusive. If children are not given the help and support they need, this can sometimes lead to issues with behaviour. Gewirtz (2006) agrees and utters that a lack of resources and appropriate support will form distributive unfairness for children. Gewritz (2006) comment was evident in placement. Throughout language lessons, one boy would do very little as he was distracted easily. Noticing this, I informed the teacher that we should try removing everything from his desk so there is less for him to get distracted. The teacher agreed, however the strategy was unsuccessful and he always found a way to not do his work. Weeks later, the teacher moved his group onto a higher level reading book. From then on, he was less distracted and completed all his work daily. It is now obvious that this child was bored and this was the cause for his disruption. Once he was given the appropriate support required, he was then able to progress with his work. I will be cautious as to which groups children have been put into by their previous teacher. I will assess accordingly and make my own judgements in order to support children where appropriate.

As mentioned in Count Us In: Achieving Inclusion in Scottish Schools (HMIE, 2003), many disputes that have taken place about inclusion are centred around the challenges of children’s behaviour for schools. It is clear behavioural issues are still problematic for teachers and schools today and is therefore an important aspect that is considered when thinking about what is involved in an ‘inclusive school’. When children demonstrate negative behaviour in the classroom, not only are they disturbing others but are also excluding themselves from the environment (Konza, 2008). Loreman, Deppeler and Harvey (2009), however, have faith that negative behaviour is a great opportunity in devising new strategies and skills to help with learning and teaching. Whereas, positive behaviour indicates that children are fully engrossed in their learning which suggests all children are included (Allan, 2008, as cited by Bryce and Humes, 2008). Teachers can therefore, spend more time on the teaching of their lesson rather than focusing merely on behaviour management.

In order to be inclusive it is the responsibility of the teacher to get to the root cause of any negative behaviour that is displayed. Better Behaviour, Better Learning (HMIE, 2001) give teachers and schools advice on how to tackle the reasons behind unwelcoming behaviour. The report recommends that all teachers promote the positive behaviour rather than concentrating on the negative as this will help enhance children’s learning faster (HMIE, 2001). If teachers and schools raise their educational standards and acknowledge individual praise and achievements, this will aid schools in becoming inclusive and will help benefit children long term. Florian and Hawkins (2010) however, feel that these recommendations will not serve any purpose as many strategies may not work, especially if children have larger families at home, where they feel socially excluded and feel it is the only way to gain attention. In my placement school, the teacher was very good at disregarding the unnecessary behaviour and praising the positive. She gave out group and individual points, certificates and awards on a regular basis. At the beginning, children thought it was appropriate to talk over me in lessons. I bettered children’s behaviour in this area by reinforcing expectations and school rules. I also communicated with staff and devised the ‘STOP’ strategy to overcome the issue. If children were displaying signs of unnecessary behaviour or talking over me I would write ‘S’ on the board to give children a warning (I would not inform the children of this, but rather observe to identify which children had noticed and award points) and so on until ‘STOP’ is written and silence is given. The strategy was effective in promoting positive behaviour and was a great way in including everyone. I will be mindful however, that not all strategies will be successful with all children.

Another feature to consider in an ‘inclusive school’ is the impact of inclusion on the lifestyles of gypsy and travelling families. According to Inclusive Educational Approaches for Scotland’s Travelling Communities within the context of interrupted learning (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2011), their lifestyles affect their experiences of schooling because of the countless disruptions in their education. This is a major concern in Scottish education and is one area that needs to be addressed when considering what makes an ‘inclusive school’.

Unfortunately, as children from these families move around a lot, they never have an opportunity to settle in to any one school. The way they dress, their language and in general their overall lifestyle is seen to be very different. This leads to children being bullied and the majority of the time poor attendance at school occurs (Padfield and Jordan, 2004). Exclusion from society proceeds further because differences are much more visible (Allan, 2008, as cited by Bryce and Humes, 2008).

With the aim of an ‘inclusive school’ it is crucial teachers and other professionals work closely with gypsy and travelling families to identify specific needs (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2011). Padfield and Jordan (2004), explain that it is very rare for parents/carers to communicate and want to better their child’s education. Whereas, Marks (2004) deliberates differently and affirms that gypsy and traveling families are very compassionate about their child’s education as some will commute far distances to ensure their child has a reasonable attendance at school. Inclusive Educational Approaches for Scotland’s Travelling Communities within the context of interrupted learning (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2011, p.22), urge schools to use ‘individualised support for learning plans’ as this will help teachers identify how much the child’s education is affected and if the child needs further additional support. Reflecting on the learning plans will enable teachers to get to know the child and their style of learning well which will enable them to tailor learning to the needs of the child (Marks, 2004).

Recognising and valuing children from cultural and diverse backgrounds is an essential characteristic of an ‘inclusive teacher’ in helping facilitate an ‘inclusive school’. At placement, two children from gypsy travelling families attended the school. The Principal Teacher (PT) was their mentor and observed them in class daily, working closely with their parents and class teachers. One of the boys was unable to count above twenty and had real difficulty in reading. Through observations the PT was aware that he had a real interest in cars. She made car cards which encouraged the child to count and wrote stories about cars with his class teacher which helped inspire him. The observations, just like the ‘individualised support for learning plans (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2011) enabled the teachers to identify which stage the children were at. This resulted in these children being fully included within the class and overall school environment.

In order for teachers and schools to make more learning and teaching practices inclusive for children, The National Framework for Inclusion (Scottish Government, 2009) aids them in doing so. The framework identifies certain aptitudes that teachers are attained to have in order to promote inclusion. Several questions in the framework help teachers reflect their practice and inspire them to make amendments. All questions accord with the Ofsted Guidance for Evaluating Educational Inclusion’s (HMIE, 2000) definition of an ‘inclusive school’ – where all aspects of schooling matter, respecting and valuing each child as an individual and most importantly recognising which children need support.

In conclusion, it is evident inclusion plays a significant part in Scottish education. The meaning of inclusion and the concept of ‘an inclusive school’ is still very unclear (Allan, 2008, as cited by Bryce and Humes, 2008). However, the shift from ‘special educational needs’, to a wide range of features now surrounding inclusion places more responsibility on teachers than ever before. It is obvious teachers have an important role to play in influencing effective practices. Teachers have to ensure individual needs are met and children, who require it, are given appropriate support. From placement experience, it is crucial to have knowledge and understanding that learning and teaching approaches or support given to one child may not be successful with another. In order to maintain an ‘inclusive school’, teachers and schools must take all associated with inclusion into consideration and inspire future education for Scotland.

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