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How has your professional practice been informed by the learning within this module?
Within this essay I will be looking at inclusion of special needs children within mainstream schools, and what it means to be an inclusive school. I will then be looking at integration of children with educational behavioural difficulties. With both of these topics I will be looking at what I have learnt within this module, my pre course days working at a pupil referral unit and my first placement as a trainee teacher.
Inclusion plays a large part in schools today. It is constantly evolving and changing in line with pupil's needs, educational needs and government demands. Inclusion can take many forms from inclusion of special education needs and disability but also inclusion through race, gender, and social background. All schools I feel strive to be an inclusive school, as Clark, Dyson and Millward (2001) says they define "differentness" as a natural occurrence and seek for it to be valued and subsequently organised for. However just because all schools strive for it I do not believe all schools and local authorities practice it, as they can believe that certain special needs fall outside of their responsibility. If it was the case that all schools practiced inclusion there would be no need for special schools, as every child would work within a mainstream school and this is definitely not the case. There is however definitely a changing attitude towards inclusion and the number of special school in England has dropped from 1,197 in 2000 to 1,054 in 2010. (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-11287193)
The biggest increase in mainstreaming has actually occurred for children with learning difficulties. (T. Scruggs and M. Mastropieri, 1996). However teachers and in particular student teachers are worried when dealing with EBD children because of a perceived threat and stressfulness towards the teacher, and the adverse affect they can have on other children as oppose to children with learning difficulties. (Hastings and Oakford, 2003). Scruggs and Mastropieri (1996) research also concluded that there was a difference in attitude by the teacher due to the nature of the disability. Teachers were more inclusive of children with a mild form of disability as oppose to a strong disability.
The school I was on placement at was noted by Ofsted (2010) as having "a very small minority of Roman, Gypsy or Traveller heritage. The Proportion of pupils with special education needs/and or disabilities is average, and the proportion with a statement of special education needs is above average. A larger than average proportion of pupils join and leave the school at times other that the usual start of the school year."(Ofsted 2010) This I feel shows that it is an inclusive school, as they on the whole have a higher than average proportion of special needs within the school. This showed within the class I worked in of twenty two children with six children classed as special educational needs. This was a far higher percentage than any other mainstream school I have worked in. These children were definitely involved in an inclusive practice of the school, they could access differentiated work, had access to a TA who primarily worked with them, and also worked with children of higher ability so that they weren't looked upon as the "special needs group", which I felt improved their confidence and motivation.
My professional development as a teacher started before the course started as along with doing the pre-requisite for the course of two weeks within a primary school, I worked for two terms in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU). Within the PRU there were a variety of Special Educational Needs, including a high proportion of Educational Behaviour Difficulties (EBD) children and children with a range of special needs including, Autism, learning difficulties and ADHD. Within this module I have learned what EBD is really identified as and not just a case of "Naughty boys" which I feel a lot of people outside of the teaching profession, and even teachers within the "staff room" might say and believe. The way that these words are used and the previous EBD term of "maladjusted" that was the official term from 1944 to 1981, makes it firmly the childs problem, without looking at the wider context, of their family background or the practice of their teacher and teaching style (R. Gulliford & G. Upton, 1992) The SEN code of practice (DfES, 2001b) says that the indicators of Emotional or behavioural difficulties are
"Clear recorded examples of withdrawn or disruptive behaviour, a marked and persistent ability to concentrate. Signs that the child experiences considerable frustration or distress in relation to their learning difficulties, difficulties in establishing and maintaining balanced relationships with their fellow pupils or with adults, and any other evidence of a significant delay in the development of life and social skills."
Whilst working at the PRU I saw children who exhibited signs of all of these behaviours, but because it was a short stay school, there was a need to correct their behaviour so they could move back into a mainstream school. However the majority of children at the PRU, came from what would be classed as low social class background, with problems at home including parents with alcohol and drug dependencies, and families where police, social workers and other outside agencies, like CAHMS (child and adolescent mental health services), Innovate, and PAYP (positive action for young people) were involved. They may also have parent that are un-employed or on low income, have long standing health problems and live in poor quality housing (B, Norwich, 1993). This in itself does not make children have behavioural problems themselves but can have a lasting impact on them accessing education and maybe just one of many reasons. Learning and behaviour difficulties can take many forms and are usually a result of complex interactions of different factors which cannot always be seen, and can be hidden against internal and external factors for which they occur (K. Jones & T. Charlton, 1996)
Whilst on placement I spent the majority of time in a year 6 with no obvious signs of any children having behavioural problems. When I spoke to the Head with regards to this he said they have a "top down approach to behaviour management" whereby he was meaning that all the teaching assistants, teachers and head teachers all have the same standards with regards to behavioural expectations. This is often referred to as a whole school approach
"The consistent application of agreed policies is crucial as emotional and behavioural difficulties are exacerbated by uncertain and unpredictable policy applications" (K.Topping and S. Maloney, 2005)
This type of holistic approach is essential if a school is to improve behavioural problems, if everyone from the teachers to the cleaners has set aspirations for all children's behaviour, then children know exactly what is and is not expected off them. When children explicitly know what is expected without any confusion, all children including those with EBD can be involved in mainstream schools.
This I feel is needed as inclusion now plays a big part in schools, under section 316 of the education act 1996 there is a "duty to educate children with special educational needs in mainstream schools".
Within this module we have met a child referred to as Stephen, who arrived at a special school following a permanent exclusion, he spent two terms in the special school before being re-integrated into back into a different mainstream school. Stephen initially confided that the incident happened because of a comment that was made by a teacher that he would end up like his brother he was in Strangeways prison. This has obviously been a main factor in the incident that resulted in the exclusion. Smith and Laslett, (1993) spoke about deviance provocative teachers, where it is their actions that can increase the disruptive and inappropriate behaviour of all children but specifically EBD children. However with the correct teaching these same children can do well under good teaching standards, and they can become positively involved in their own learning.
I feel this is definitely the case at the school I was in my first placement, where there was a child who had spent time at a special school, had become fully adapted into the school ethos. This was in a large part by the teachers and her classroom skills. This included positive behaviour management, which worked two fold. Firstly there was the school rules, which were implicitly known by all children within the class, and were phrased in a positive manner such as always put your hand up to answer any question as oppose to do not shout out the answer. If school rules are not adhered then there should be a particular outcome (J. Leadbetter and P.Leadbetter, 1993). This was the case in class where they operated a yellow and red card system, for breaking the rules. I saw the child receive a yellow card on a few occasions, where rules were broken, and this seemed to turn his behaviour around, as he did not want to be given a red card which would mean contacting his parents.
The second part of the successful behaviour management policy within the class came where children were rewarded with tokens for good behaviour that accounted for golden time. This can only be executed after a clear system of rules has been set up (J.Leadbetter, P. Leadbetter 1993). Also the way that work was differentiated between abilities so everyone had the chance to excel, another key criteria in behaviour management. Jane and Peter Leadbetter state that "if children are motivated to conform to class rules, for example by means of a reward system, then their learning is likely to improve." Also the head teacher used a very interesting verbal reinforcement scheme where if a child received 5 credits in a day they went down to the head masters office so there name could be written in a book and a sweet given to them. In assembly on the Friday the names added to the book would be read out and the children joined a "circle of achievement" where the aim was to create a whole circle by the number of children going up, this would of needed over three quarters of the school children to have joined the circle. On the final week of my placement I saw this happen, too much applause from the adults sat at the side.
Inclusion of EBD children into mainstream schools, has many positive aspects for the children involved. They can see good behaviour being modelled by other pupils, it can promote tolerance in society, and can lead to a better coping mechanism when they leave school than if they have been insulated in a special school
There are many teachers, parents and people who are involved within education that believes that inclusion does not work. One reason is teachers and parents who are not involved in special schools, believe that special schools will always be better at providing for the needs of special children, as there will be teachers with improved qualifications in this area, as well as better resources for the child to access. There is of course the notion that class size will undeniably be smaller with an increase in support staff, so consequently a child would receive more attention. At the PRU that I worked at there were ten pupils, one head teacher, two teachers and three SSA (special school assistant), so obviously a high staff to child ratio, compared to a mainstream school where there may be one teacher to thirty pupils.
Behavioural problems can vary widely, from the child who refuses to put up their hand to answer questions, to incidents like what happened in the PRU I worked at, where a child stabbed an SSA in the neck with a pencil. Obviously children's behavioural problems can manifest themselves in different ways, but the way a teacher views these problems can significantly affect a child becoming labelled as EBD. Teachers can be either very controlling with regards to behaviour, and have strict behaviour management policies in place, whilst other teachers have a more laissez faire approach where they like to see children get on and be involved in the responsibility of their own learning (J. Leadbetter and P. Lleadbetter, 1993).
In conclusion, I think that mainstream schools are becoming more inclusive, I feel this can be seen by the figures that show that there are now less special schools than there were ten years ago. However I believe, that inclusiveness must be a whole school approach, and where every member of the school has the same ethos.
I believe EBD children needed to be educated in mainstream schools, if we are going to stop these children ending up on the fringes of society. By looking at the literature and the learning within this module I can see that good teachers can make all the difference to whether a child will be labelled as EBD, and this will influence my future teaching. If children are fully integrated into a school with a strong behavioural plan, with a good reward system I feel they can have the chance to access education in a mainstream school.