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Every child has a fundamental right to education, and must be given the opportunity to achieve and maintain an acceptable level of learning (UNESCO, 1994, viii-ix)
Inclusion is the key educational concept of ensuring equal opportunities for all children irrespective of their attainment, ethnicity, age, gender or background, for whom teachers, working in close partnership with parents, specialists and outside agencies, must plan carefully in order to meet the learner's diverse needs.
In the following I will explore the concept of inclusion with relation to how children develop, my experience and growing knowledge of how to make personalised provision for those I teach in order to promote equality and inclusion, and conclude with a brief reflection on the perceived successes and failures of inclusion in our schools today.
To fully understand the origins of 'inclusion' within mainstream education, it is important to ascertain that historically, the needs of children with perceived special educational needs (SEN) were met in specialist institutions, until their integration into mainstream education resulted, initially in the UK, following the publication of the Warnock Report (DES, 1978) on education for children with SEN. SEN being a term which has since, according to the 2001 Department for Education and Skills (DfES) Code of Practice in England, covered any child who 'has a learning difficulty which calls for educational provision to be made for him' (p6) and further more, the learning difficulty should be 'significantly greater than the majority of children of the same age' (Ibid p6)). Since the, mainstream schools have had a legal obligation to educate these pupils and subsequently all Local Authorities(LAs) are bound by the 1994 Special Educational Needs Code of Practice to ensure that SEN children have their needs met within mainstream education whilst also ensuring the efficient education of others.
It is estimated that currently around 20% of all children in schools in the UK have SEN.
A wide range of needs in children falling into this category and include:-
Communication and interaction (Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD)), listening difficulties and speech and language difficulties)
Behaviour, emotional and social development (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and attention-seeking behaviours)
Cognition and learning (dyslexia and dyspraxia)
Sensory and physical (visual and hearing impairments, epilepsy, cerebral palsy and asthma)
However, since the 1990s, schools have been challenged to integrate further these children by not just absorbing them into the system, but by breaking down barriers to access and learning, where teachers now are required to differentiate and adapt their teaching with the purpose of meeting the needs of all their learners through careful planning for inclusion; making changes to the curriculum, assessment, pedagogy and groupings of pupils in order to meet an inclusive criteria. In a addition, through links forged between Removing Barriers to Achievement' (DfES 2004a) special education and the Every Child Matters agenda, multiple agencies now work together for the good of the learner.
Furthermore, inclusion has now been broadened to encompass all marginalised groups with additional learning needs such as those displayed by children for example, with English as an Additional Language (EAL), Gifted and Talented (G&T), children with behavioural and/or emotional issues, Travellers and Newly Arrived children, looked after children and under-achieving boys, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. (Q18, Q19)
Within mainstream education I have observed children with mild learning difficulties access the curriculum with some additional help and differentiated learning which is usually teacher led, whilst children who are assessed as not responding to differentiation and not making adequate progress, are awarded School Action status and their specialist education is recorded via an Individual Education Plan. These children subsequently gain access to the curriculum via differentiation and sometimes specialist intervention programmes (for example, Wave 3), with support from the class teacher and usually specialist equipment and/or teaching assistant tuition. A further small proportion of children who are identified as having severe and specific learning difficulties are given School Action Plus status where the school will ask for outside specialist help from the Local Authority's (LA) support service or from health or social work professionals. However, if a child is not responding to either of the former, the child may have a multi-disciplinary assessment made which may result in a 'Statement of Educational Needs'. (Q18, Q19, Q22)
The importance of the school working in partnership with parents at all times is of utmost importance as is the participation of the pupil in any decision processes which enables them succeed and to exercise choices in relation to their own education. It should be stated at this point that each LA takes its own line on the strategic decisions regarding the amount and role of any specialist provision it provides and many parents, and notably those in Nottingham City, who would prefer their children's educational needs to be met in a specialist school often face an uphill battle. Inclusive Schooling; Children with Special Educational Needs (2001) states that The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001) 'clearly signals that where parents want a mainstream education for their child everything possible should be done to provide it. Equally where parents want a special school place their wishes should be listened to and taken into account.'(p3:4)
There are no children currently 'statemented' at Berridge Juniors, however the school SENCO working alongside the parents is applying for statementation of a child who has Bartter's Syndrome; epilepsy; profoundly deafness; digestive and growth problems and severe learning delay. Over 1/3 of the school however have been issued with an IEP (well above National Average).
The National Curriculum Inclusion Statement (DfSE 1999, p30) sets out three principles which are essential to developing a more inclusive curriculum and relate to good classroom practice:-
setting suitable learning challenges
responding to pupils' diverse learning needs
over-coming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils
Through inclusive teaching, I have taken into consideration learning objectives and at times differentiated these using the Primary National Strategies frameworks to inform my planning and address these objectives through differentiated questioning and demonstration
during whole-class teaching, and through work planned for both individuals and groups.
Berridge Junior School, Numeracy and Literacy are targeted, allowing learning objectives to remain reasonably consistent within each group. However, within these groups in order to match individual's needs, I have used a variety of teaching approaches and styles, for example, visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning, open and closed tasks, short and long tasks, ICT, Clicker 5 and Widget, multi-cultural references and using coloured backgrounds for dyslexic comprehension. I have made myself familiar with IEPs to formulate my planning and with 'Quality First Teaching', incorporating inclusive classroom strategies such as 'timed targets' and giving pupils more time to complete work, wherever possible. (Q18, Q19, Q22)
I have planned for utilisation of specialist TA help, respecting their depth of knowledge at all times whilst ensuring the TA has the support of the three inclusion principles and through AfL, have planned for personalised learning targets for future lessons. In addition to CPD research regarding specific areas of barriers to learning for some of the children I teach, I have called on the school's specialist SENCO, EMAG, PHSE and Behaviour Co-ordinators for advice on particular issues. I have also asked for advice from subject co-ordinators in relation to differentiation. (Q18, Q19, Q20)
Through being aware of, and taking time to find out about the range of developmental, social, religious, ethnic, cultural and linguistic influences which affect both positively and negatively on how children develop and progress, I have used my understanding of the effects these factors can have on a child's well-being, to recognise when they present themselves as barriers to learning, and use learned strategies to overcome them. With a knowledge of and implementing the whole-school ethos, policies, procedures and approaches and using evidence gained through communicating with the pupil and their parents/carers, I can to plan accurately for inclusion through differentiation. I am always diligent regarding the impact social factors may have on the children's learning, health, economic well-being and safety. I have brought to the attention of the Safe Guarding co-ordinator an issue I thought was of importance and I have set reward targets for children to arrive at school on time and go to bed at a good time! (Q18, Q19, Q20, Q22)
As a trainee teacher it is essential to be aware of my responsibilities arising from current legislation covering SEN and disability but above all, I must ensure that all children have a positive experience of school based on how they are helped with their learning, and how they achieve and participate fully in school life. (Q18, Q19, Q20, Q22)
However, life is never quite that simple and the inclusion debate rages on within and without the school walls. Since the now well documented controversial u-turn by Baroness Warnock in 2005 after the closure of hundreds of specialist schools, claiming that inclusion and statements policies are not working and we are left with "a disastrous legacy" and adding, "Governments must come to recognise that, even if inclusion is an ideal for society in general, it may not always be an ideal for schools," begs me to question the success of inclusion. Although I applaud and completely uphold the gallant attempt to fight for the right of every child, no matter what their circumstances to reach their full potential in school, make a successful transition to adulthood and the world of further and higherÂ education, training or work, I cannot help but wonder if inclusion is realistically viable. Many parents of SEN children feel their children's needs are not being met. Richard Reiser, the director of Disability Equality in Education, claims, 'you need more resources, more training and a mandatory code of admissions.' (Independent on Sunday, 23 March 2006). Many teachers feel ill equipped and inadequately trained to truly meet the inclusive criteria and many SEN pupils themselves feel isolated and inadequate when placed in a mainstream environment.
Without huge investment, I can only see that 'inclusion' will simply become another word for mediocre. Are any individual's needs truly met (including mainstream)? Only time immersed in inclusion will answer this question for me.