Evaluate Inclusive Practices for Children with Special Needs

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According to Ainscow et al. (1999:1) the Green Paper Excellence for All Children and the follow-up document Meeting Special Educational Needs: A Programme of Action place inclusion at the centre of policy and practice and politicians now emphasise their commitment to social justice and inclusion rather than competition. This new mood has facilitated an increased demand for mainstream schools to include children who would have in the past been sent to special schools (Thomas et al. 1998:1). There are a number of strategies that schools and parents can adopt to enable 'all' children to be accommodated in an inclusive setting and make learning a more enjoyable experience. Inclusive practices adopted in mainstream settings focusing on secondary schools, will be critically evaluated in the following paragraphs using specific case studies to inform the analysis. Obstacles which hinder effective practice and policy will also be examined.

History of Inclusion

According to Walker (2009:3), during the 1980s and 90s, new special schools were given much investment to meet the needs of those with learning difficulties and physical disabilities. The justification for this approach was that mainstream schools could not provide these children with additional support needed. However, there has been a clear shift in thinking since the beginning of the 21st century with many secondary schools closing or merging with mainstream schools. Champions of this development have asserted that the social element of education is critical to all children and that children's learning requirements are best met in an inclusive setting.

Consequently, mainstream schools have developed a number of strategies to help cope with the requirements of children with special educational needs and they have to demonstrate that they are addressing the educational needs of all their pupils. Additionally, since September 2008, all schools have added a Special Educational Needs Coordinator (SENCO) to their Senior Leadership Team (SLT).

Defining Inclusive Education

According to Stubbs (1998:1) inclusive education is a "strategy contributing towards the ultimate goal of promoting an inclusive society, one which enables all…to participate in and contribute to that society. Difference is respected and valued…" Thus, inclusive education is child-centred, acknowledging that children are individuals with different learning requirements. As well as improving schools, inclusive education increases awareness of human rights and reduces discrimination.

According to the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE, 1996, cited in Thomas et al. 1998:15) an inclusive school is community based; is not exclusive or rejecting; is barrier-free; is accessible to all members both educationally in terms of curricular and physically in relation to buildings; and promotes collaboration between other schools and all those involved in the child's welfare (Thomas et al. 1998:16).

Ainscow (2005:15) asserts that inclusion is characterised by four key elements. The first one defines inclusion as a 'process'. In other words, inclusion is an endless search to find better ways of responding to diversity. Here, differences are viewed as a stimulus for cultivating learning for children. Secondly, inclusion focuses on identifying and removing barriers. This involves collating and analysing information from a range of sources so as to plan for improvements in policy and practice. Thirdly, inclusion is concerned with the participation, presence and achievement of 'all' students. Children must frequently and punctually attend school, their views must be listened to and acted upon and they must be provided with the tools for achievement in learning across the curriculum. Finally, inclusion focuses on those groups of children who may be a risk of exclusion, marginalisation or underachievement. This involves careful monitoring of those statistically most at risk and a commitment to ensuring their presence, participation and achievement in mainstream schools.

However, Ainscow (2005:14) asserts that there is still confusion about what inclusion actually means which is rooted in central government policy statements. The term 'social inclusion' has been associated primarily with improving attendance and reducing exclusions. The concept of 'inclusive education' on the other hand, has appeared in most national guidance in connection with the rights of individual children identified as having special educational needs to be educated in mainstream schools. More recently, Ofsted has introduced the term 'educational inclusion', noting that effective schools are inclusive schools. The minor differences between these ideals, contributes to a lack of common understanding amongst stakeholders and leads to subsequent difficulties in implementing educational reform (Fullan, 1991, cited in Ainscow, 2005:14).

Defining Special Educational Needs

According to DirectGov (2010:1) the term 'special educational needs' refers to children who have learning difficulties or disabilities that make it more difficult for them to learn than most children of the same age. According to Frederickson and Cline (2002:35) a child has a learning difficulty if they have a far greater difficulty in learning than most pupils of a similar age and have a disability which hinders them from being able to make use of school facilities of the kind provided to pupils in schools in the local authority area.

According to Topping and Maloney (2005:3) the old system of categorisation of children located the problem within the child, conceiving it is as a deficit in the individual, and applying a medical tool as if learning difficulties were some kind of disease with labels such as 'educationally subnormal' being applied. However, from 1980 onwards political pressure from disability groups had begun to change societal values and pathological models were replaced by social and educational models of disability, which acknowledged that educational difficulties are dependent upon the educational context in which the child is situated, and the of quality teaching they receive.

However, although inclusive discourse encompasses ideas that appear to be contrary to the medicalisation of special educational needs, evidence reveals that this is not a message that has been delivered effectively to pupils leading to the discriminatory treatment of children who are not obviously different from so-called 'normal' children. According to Abberley (1987, cited in Florian et al. 2006:38) the medical model sees difference in relation to disease and endeavours to quantify individual impairments in terms of implications for standard treatments. Oliver (1990, cited in Florian, 2006:39) argues that educational assessments have historically identified the particular dysfunctional characteristics of a child in order to prescribe treatment. Inclusion on the other hand, views children with special educational needs as valued members of society who are totally 'normal' people who just happen to have these 'extra differences'.

All schools in the UK have a register of pupils with special educational needs which holds details of pupil's learning needs and includes information regarding any emotional and behavioural difficulties they are experiencing. This information goes towards the development of an individual education plan (IEP), which outlines learning targets for staff to include in their teaching (Visser, 2000:8).

The biggest increase of special educational needs in mainstream school has been for children presenting learning difficulties. However, teachers express most concern about pupils with emotional and behaviour difficulties - perhaps because they are viewed as most likely to damage the education of their classmates as well as being most stressful for the teacher. It is also evident that some children who are perceived to have special needs in one classroom are not necessarily seen as having special needs in another. Moreover, teachers tend to perceive learning difficulties more readily in children of South Asian origin (Topping and Maloney, 2005:6).

Inclusive Practice in Secondary Schools

So far, this paper has outlined the historical development of inclusion and provided a definition of inclusive practices and special educational needs. The following paragraphs will illustrate how inclusive practices can be used effectively in mainstream secondary education, using specific case studies as examples.

According to Ainscow et al. (1999:2), as a result of half-day conferences with key stakeholders including parents and pupils, it was concluded that there are a six inter-connecting themes which are critical to the development of more inclusive practices within LEAs, which include policy development; funding strategies; processes and structures; the management of change; external influences and partnerships. There was general support for the view that an LEA's policy for inclusive practice should contain a review of future basic principles; capable of being applied to other policy areas; clear, despite differences of opinion between stakeholders; and supported by central government.

Funding was perceived to be a significant factor in creating more inclusive arrangements. Across the LEAs, there was great disparity of funding between the most and least 'needy' schools which influenced the extent to which each school was able to meet the needs of their pupils without external support. Hence, it was felt that LEA funding policies would facilitate progress towards inclusive practice and contribute towards more coherent funding strategies (Ainscow et al. 1999:2).

In relation to processes and structures, it was felt that existing arrangements could inhibit inclusive practice and so there was an identified need to set up various interim arrangements to help move things forward. For example, some LEAs viewed the work of classroom assistants as integral to inclusive practice. Others felt that this arrangement led to further segregation within mainstream schools. Some LEAs had set-up training for classroom assistants and for teachers on working with another adult in the classroom (Ainscow et al. 1999:2).

The conference revealed a strong feeling that management processes should be reviewed. It was identified that there are frequently dilemmas arising in decision-making amongst officers, advisers, educational psychologists and parents because they all have their own interpretations of what inclusive policies mean. This requires closer scrutiny so that there can be closer agreement between all those involved in the child's welfare (Ainscow et al. 1999:3).

There was considerable focus on the importance of partnership working with particular reference to the role that LEA support services can play in cultivating effective partnerships with parents. It was considered crucial for there to be good communication between teachers and parents in order to iron out differences and misunderstandings. This view is supported by Beveridge (2005:95) who adds that in order for reciprocal support to occur, communication must be underpinned by mutual trust and respect if it is to be regarded as a genuine partnership. Appleton and Minchom's (1995, cited in Beveridge, 2005:95) empowerment model, focuses specifically on promoting parental control and highlights the need for professionals to tailor their involvement in ways that are responsive to the needs of individual parents and families.

At a classroom level, there are a set of conditions which form the foundation of inclusive education for pupils with learning difficulties. Such conditions include: an opportunity for pupils to participate in the decision-making process; a positive attitude about the learning abilities of all pupils; teacher knowledge about learning difficulties; skilful application of specific instructional techniques; and parent and teacher support (Tilstone et al. 2003:22).

However, Tilstone et al. (2003:22) assert that a positive attitude alone is not sufficient to achieve inclusive education. If a teacher is unskilled, regardless of how open-minded they are, they will fail to provide adequate education for pupils with special educational needs if they are unsupported. Similarly, skill in the various teaching methods needs to be supplemented with knowledge of pupils' learning difficulties and the belief that such pupils can learn.

Ainscow (1999:4) has observed that teachers who appear to be effective do pay attention to certain important aspects of classroom life. They recognise that the initial stages of any lesson are crucial to help pupils to understand the meaning of what is about to occur and they help children to recall previous experiences to which new learning can be related. They also acknowledge that the two most important resources are themselves and the children. Thus, pupils are frequently encouraged to think aloud, either with the class as a whole or as a result of the teachers questioning.

However, in order for teaching methods to be truly effective much of it needs to be directed at the 'whole' class. According to Ainscow (1999:5) individualized responses, based on systematic programmes of intervention, are now a thing of the past and the planning frame now needs to be directed at the 'whole' class. When integration efforts rely on importing practices from special education they are likely to lead to new forms of segregation within mainstream settings (Fulcher, 1989, cited in Ainscow, 1999:5). English schools have experienced a significant increase in largely untrained classroom assistants who work with vulnerable children and their individualized programmes in mainstream education. When such support is withdrawn teachers feel they can no longer cope (Ainscow, 1999:5).

Another important aspect of inclusive education is to ensure that all pupils have access to the National Curriculum. According to Rose (2003:28) the introduction of entitlement of all pupils to a curriculum which is broad and balanced has enabled a widespread recognition that all pupils have a right to receive a curriculum which contains some common elements. Pressure to apply the national curriculum has meant that a number of schools have addressed the ten subjects in such a way that the importance of the extra curricular elements has been diminished. Therefore, establishing a balance so that those with special educational needs can benefit, may demand that greater emphasis is placed on subjects that lie outside the core curriculum (Rose, 2003:32). In the Dearing Review of the National Curriculum in 1994, Richard Byers wrote "pupils' personal and social development: the cross curricular skills, themes and dimensions; methodological and practice-related notions like group work and problem solving must continue to be seen as of prime importance" (Byers, 1994, cited in Rose, 2003:32).

Improved formative assessments, according to Black and Williams (2001:3) are another way of ensuring a more inclusive environment for children with special educational needs. Many studies show that improved formative assessment helps low attainers more than the rest, and so reduces the spread of attainment whilst also raising it overall. One investigative study devoted to students with learning difficulties revealed that frequent assessment feedback helps both groups enhance their learning (Fuchs et al. 1997, cited in Black and Wiliams 2001:3).

So far, this assignment has focused on the ways in which mainstream schools can successfully implement inclusive education. The following paragraphs provide some examples of the way in which inclusive practice has been introduced in mainstream secondary schools.

Elias et al. (2002:1) conducted an in-depth case study of an effective inclusive school in the south west of England. The findings revealed a number of positive results. Respondents expressed positive attitudes towards inclusion to the extent that the general school ethos could be viewed as inclusive. To illustrate: students with special educational needs were not excluded from any activity in their class, there was very little withdrawal from lessons with most support provided in-class, 'all' pupils participated in the mainstream life of the school, and there was a heavy focus on terminology and language with 'curriculum and learning support' being replaced by SEN. Additionally, parents were exceptionally pleased with the communication they received from the teachers and the students with SEN who had been integrated benefitted academically. It was not clear whether they benefitted so much socially although this might have been because they had to take a bus and had less opportunity to build friendship out of school hours. School participants were pleased with the way that the physical environment was restructured and professionals felt personal satisfaction in implementing inclusive practice. However they did feel that the policy should be LEA-wide rather than restricted to a few schools. As the deputy head commented "because we have a very good reputation for including students with additional needs, we have got the label that the school is good for SEN, and that is not the label that we want because we are losing the brightest of the students locally."

Another example of a successful inclusive school is Hillbank, a state Secondary High school that serves a poor area in the North of England.   Reportedly, an estimated quarter of the local population draw some form of welfare assistance there (Ainscow and Kaplan, 2005:1). Ainscow and Kaplan (2005:1) collaborated with a group of sixteen year old students to record their views of the school in the hope that it would bring them deeper insights into what happed in the school. 

Generally speaking, the students made a number of positive comments about the school and its inclusive practices, and this was supported by the impressions given by staff who also confirmed that the school had a good reputation in the local community and achieved good grades (Ainscow and Kaplan, 2005:1). 

However, they did indicate that there were a number of aspects that made the school a 'less welcoming' place. The students argued that the best and worst students were exempt from certain rules, leaving those in the middle, sometimes feeling unfairly penalized (Ainscow and Kaplan, 2005:1). Students also felt it was difficult to outlive a poor reputation in the school, even when pupils changed their behaviour and improved their academic performance. One student exhibited frustration at feeling that the teachers sometimes picked on the pupils and asserted that if you had a bad reputation one year, the teachers would still hold a grudge against you and make you feel that it was impossible to do anything right the following year (Ainscow and Kaplan, 2005).

The above case studies are an illustration of the way that some schools have managed to implement inclusive practices effectively. However, the last case study especially, shows the importance of gaining the perspective of students in examining inclusive schools if one is to go beyond literal interpretations of inclusion. It also has the added benefit of allowing the students to feel that their 'voice' is important (Ainscow and Kaplan, 2005:1). As Ainscow and Kaplan (2005) assert, inquiry based approaches can be a powerful way of stimulating the development of inclusive practices and evidence provided by students can be a powerful lever for change although this does depend on forms of leadership which encourage a willingness to address the challenges that emerge as a result of listening to the voices of young people.

Obstacles

An analysis of the previous paragraphs shows that there are clearly a number of practices and policies that can be introduced for a school to become sufficiently inclusive. However, there are a number of challenges that schools can face in order to fulfil the criteria needed to become an inclusive school. According to Evans and Lunt (2002) the conflicts in government policy between the standards and the league tables discourse and the inclusive schools discourse make it difficult for schools to become more inclusive. Elias et al. (2002:1) assert that the introduction of performance tables and the pressure to raise standards means that pupils with special educational needs may not be welcome in schools. The authors therefore debate whether education can be separated from the social, cultural and political context in which the school is embedded.

Another issue is associated with a lack of resources within schools. Teachers often cite a lack of resources as a barrier to mainstreaming pupils with special needs. Sufficient and appropriate expert practitioner time, appropriate physical space, and the required learning and teaching materials have also been perceived to be lacking in a number of mainstream schools (Topping and Maloney, 2005:11).

There is a plethora of research evidence which points to the fact that everyday practice of assessment in classrooms is beset with short-comings. Although teachers have a conscientious approach to marking they frequently fail to provide guidance on how work can be improved. Instead, marking often appears to reinforce underachievement by being too generous or unfocused and inadequate information of the pupil received by the teacher is insufficiently used to inform subsequent work (Black and Wiliams, 2001:3).

There are intrinsic dangers associated with using specialist support in inclusive schools and this is evident through Depeller et al. (2005:117) analysis of Australian secondary schools where inclusive education provision relies heavily on specialist support from outside the classroom. Students with special educational needs are taught within the mainstream classroom and additional specialist services such as counselling, special education teaching and psychological assessment are required to support their placement. This type of support usually relies upon a diagnostic- prescriptive viewpoint whereby the specialist plays a central role in shaping practices. This approach can serve to marginalize pupils even further. Thus, the authors suggest that a prospective alternative may be to shift the focus from the students who are different, to the community of learners in the school. This approach uses collaborative practices to support inclusive ideals and grounds improvement efforts in changes in teachers' knowledge as well as the cultural and organisational conditions of the school.

It is important that teachers be aware of the dangers of pathologising educational difficulties as inherent within students, even when those same difficulties are employed effectively to interrogate some aspects of school practice (Ainscow, 2005:13). This is not only relevant to students with disabilities but also of those whose socioeconomic status, language, race, and gender renders them problematic to particular teachers in some schools. In view of this insight, it is necessary to develop the capacity of those within schools so as to challenge deeply ingrained deficit views of difference, which define certain types of students as lacking something (Trent et al. 1998, cited in Ainscow, 2005:13). As Ainscow (2005:14) asserts, even the most advanced teaching methods are likely to prove ineffective in the hands of those who subscribe to a belief system that views some pupils, at best, as disadvantaged and need of fixing, or worse, as deficient, hence, beyond fixing.

An analysis of individual types of special educational needs reveals an understanding of how a commitment to inclusive practice can present challenges in mainstream settings. According to Wender (2000:10/11) ADHD is characterised by a range of learning disorders, shortness of attention span and hyperactivity. However, there are a number of external influences that could impact on a normal child's emotional status and behaviour which may result in them displaying behaviours with ADHD. According to the journalist Garner (2008:1) an independent Royal Commission is being called by teachers to examine why a number of children in Britain seem to be so unhappy. One theory proffers that family breakdown and social dysfunction are detrimental to the educational attainment of children and the performance of schools and colleges. Moreover, more and more pupils are resorting to suicide because of academic, social and peer pressure and the Government's obsession with standards, performance targets and testing. The implications of this finding are that if teachers are to be truly inclusive of children with special educational needs they need to try and gain a full understanding of where these needs originate from and not just assume that because children convey a certain set of systems, that it has a specific medicalized cause as the wrong diagnosis can inevitably lead to the wrong treatment and misguided teaching practice.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a critical evaluation of inclusive practice for children with special educational needs in secondary mainstream schools has revealed that there are a number of strategies that can be employed - both at a policy level, and in classroom teaching practice that can contribute towards effective inclusive schooling. These include improved funding mechanisms and management processes; better communication and partnership working with parents and children; a positive attitude and appropriate skills held by teachers; full involvement in curriculum subjects; and improved formal assessments. An analysis of some case studies within secondary schools has also revealed the importance of taking seriously children's viewpoints in order to inform future inclusive practice. However, there are a number of obstacles that schools face in implementing inclusive practice. The conflicts in government policy between the standards and the league table's discourse and the inclusive schools discourse make it difficult for schools to become more inclusive. There are also complaints from teachers about the lack of resources available and everyday practice of assessment in classrooms is beset with shortcomings. In addition, there is a danger of placing too much emphasis on outside specialist support which could marginalize pupils even more. Nevertheless, the case studies of inclusive practices in secondary mainstream schools do clearly show that inclusive school development is a social process and clarify the importance of engaging with different views on schools practices and policies. Thus, if educational commentators continue to collect these different forms of evidence, this may enable them to analyse barriers to learning and participation and make thoroughly informed recommendations for future inclusive practice.

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