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During this report I will draw on a range of relevant: research, theories and personal observations, to explore the respective schooling experiences of two pupils who are recognised as experiencing barriers to learning. Ferguson defines inclusion as:
“a unified system of public education that incorporates all children and youths as active, fully participating members of the school community; that views diversity as the norm and achieves a high quality education for each student by providing meaningful curriculum, effective teaching and necessary supports for each student.” (Ferguson: 1997: 53)
In light of these ideas, the purpose of this report will be to examine some key principles of inclusion with reference to how effectively they were realised in a specific primary school and in relation to two individuals. In doing so I will explore the following aspects of schooling: the curriculum and the ‘hidden curriculum, wider social justice aims and how these can impact upon the successful inclusion of individuals and the importance of schools fostering effective links with parents and in including children. The recurring premise of this report will be inclusive education and the extent to which it is feasible, or even desirable, for individual pupils. In accordance with the principle of respecting privacy, no authentic names have been used.
The school that will provide the context for this report is Carlton primary school, an integrated community school, serving the west suburbs of Edinburgh. The school’s catchment area encompasses a varied social mix; however the surrounding area is largely white middle class. The school’s statistics for the last few years indicate that attendance rates have been above the national average, while the number of children receiving free school meals has been below average. The school has established strong links with parents and the wider community and scores high in the local league tables. By and large the school could be described as being a product of middle class, normalized ideals of success and achievement (Brantlinger, 2003) Jess and Alex are both 10 year old, white Caucasian children in primary six at Carlton primary. Alex comes from a middle-class background and his parents, both of whom are working professionals, take a keen interest in his schooling. Jess comes from a working class background, also with both parents in employment, but does not have the same level of home support.
Jess is described in her ASL referral notes as having ‘generally poor literacy skills’ and is currently working towards level B in reading and writing. Jess is a well integrated member of the class and is held in high esteem by her teacher. Despite Jess’s difficulties with literacy she is a keen artist and is regularly praised by her teacher and peers alike. According to Jess’s teacher, the factors affecting her learning are: ‘a lack of confidence’, ‘poor organisational skills’ and, at times, ‘a lack of home support’. Alex is described by the class teacher as having ‘a spectrum of learning difficulties’, most notably Autism Spectrum disorder, and is isolated within the class. As is common with Autistic children, Alex finds the experience of school discernibly overwhelming (Cohen, 2002) Alex enjoys working alone, engaging in focused and often repetitive activities; if he is disturbed, as he often is, he becomes distressed or disengaged. Like Jess, Alex is working towards level B in his reading and writing and is described by the class teacher as being ‘reserved’. Both children require additional support in the classroom and Alex requires the help of a learning assistant.
Teaching and learning
A Curriculum for excellence states that:
“Curriculum for excellence aims to achieve a transformation in education in Scotland by providing a coherent, more flexible and enriched curriculum from 3 to 18” (CFE)
In Carlton primary these ideas were translated in various ways across the school. In the upper primaries, an integral part of teaching and learning was collaboration, for which the class would be split into special ‘learning groups’ and work together on tasks. The majority of the children in the class seemed to respond well to this, however for Alex, this was often problematic due to his preference for working alone. It has been argued that there are social benefits for all children of engaging in collaborative group work (Cole: 2000, Lynch and Irvine: 2009) however these benefits did not seem to extend to Alex who often became disengaged. O’Brien and Macleod discuss potential pitfalls of the socialisation of some children, arguing that:
“The children may be socially integrated, but what does this mean? If it means being socialised into a disabled or deviant identity, then it may be that pupils would be able to take up different identities in a setting in which their individual differences did not define them.” (O’Brien, J and Macleod, G: 2010: p.51)
In light of this idea, I would suggest that Alex had been identified by the other children as being ‘really different’ (Benjamin, 2002) and that this had created a binary in the classroom which particularly affected him in instances such as collaborative learning. Consequently, Alex may have been compelled to construct a negative self identity and to disengage in response to the hierarchies of power such as the ones that would be present in group situations (Raey: 2006: 179). Michael Farrell discusses how teachers might help children like Alex to overcome difficult group situations, suggesting that they are desensitised to group work in stages of contact. It is also suggested that introducing the interests of the child into the group task, where possible, can be beneficial. (Farrell: 2008: 255)
In Jess’s case, she did seem to benefit from aspects of the curriculum; the class teacher regularly praised her for her artwork and always made it explicitly clear to the children that all forms of success and achievement would be celebrated in the classroom. In this respect, Jess was able to adhere, partially, to the same discourses of success as her classmates (Benjamin: 2002: 313) however, Jess continued to lack confidence. One possible reason for this is presented by Hamill and Clark, who suggest that the ‘hidden curriculum’, otherwise constructed as the implicit teaching and values that are present within a classroom, can have a powerful effect on learners. (Hamill and Clarke: 2005: 26) Bearing this in mind, it is conceivable that, although the class teacher appeared to be inclusive of all forms of achievement and not just dominant forms of literacy and mathematics, the implicit values in the classroom curriculum and the nuances of her teaching, may have suggested otherwise; herein lies a main tension between achievement and inclusion.
It seems that neither child was able to achieve acceptable forms of success, such as those that would afford them some form of credibility in the current labour market (Benjamin: 2002: 2). In considering this issue it would be necessary to think about some of the societal and structural constraints encountered by each child. One perceivable barrier to the successful inclusion of these children is described by O’Brien and Macleod, who suggest that:
“Without some underlying social thesis about the type of society, and by implication individuals, that are valued, the consequence of equal autonomy for all individuals will be an unequal society.” (O’Brien, J and Macleod, G: 2010: 46)
At Carlton primary school, and in the wider society, it could be argued that the implicit ‘social thesis’ valued academic success and social integration very highly and, perhaps, dismissed other important factors. Subsequently, the children were not seen as fulfilling the capitalist requirements of the school and, in a wider sense, society and were therefore ‘excluded’. Black- Hawkins et al advocate a rethinking of the purpose of schooling to equally include potentially important values such as the development of self-esteem, ‘self-efficacy’, ‘resilience’, ‘social skills’, ‘creativity’ and ‘tolerance’ (Black-Hawkins et al: 2007: 16) This idea flags up the importance of schools not taking for granted that academic achievement should gain precedence over other things. If such a radical change was to take place in Carlton primary school, it would have to precede that the curriculum was interpreted in a new and more inclusive way such as success being measured by the individual progress of the pupils as opposed to against standards (Black-Hawkins: 2007: 22) Of course, there are no guarantees about how well certain interpretations of the curriculum will work in a specific school and so it would be necessary for the school to review the curriculum on a regular basis.
In keeping with the idea of implicit social values, we must consider another important factor governing Jess’s schooling experience, in particular her literacy development; she is a working class child, attending a middle class school. Hayes et al argue that:
“It tends to be middle-class students who best handle decontextualised school knowledge. This means that classroom practices should recognise and value students’ background experiences while connecting with their worlds beyond the classroom.” (Hayes et al: 2006: 37)
This is very much in line with Bourdieu, who advocates the idea that children can be disadvantaged at school due to a lack of ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu: 1986) In keeping with this idea, research has shown that allowing children to draw on their own interests and backgrounds can help socio-economically disadvantaged children to engage with school literacies (Nixon and Comber: 2006: 1) Thus, it is perceivable that if the class teacher was to re-evaluate the materials she was using with Jess, in order to make them more relevant to her experiences out with school, that Jess would be able to develop further in her literacy work and become a more confident, successful learner; this could also be true for Alex. Of course, if the class teacher was to explore this kind of literacy teaching in the class, there would be important considerations. Marsh and Millard discuss the possibility of allowing exclusive ideologies into the classroom by drawing on children’s interests which are often tied up in popular culture:
“These ideologies are often located in discourses of violence, racism, sexism and other forms of oppression. (Marsh and Millard: 2000: 23)
Bearing this in mind, it would still be possible for teachers to draw on popular culture and children’s interests to promote inclusion and engagement providing that professional discretion was employed to ensure that the materials they were introducing were not, in themselves, exclusionary or embedded too much in some values as opposed to others.
If we continue to examine how different forms of justice were deployed in relation to the children, it becomes clear that some of these sat problematically with each other. Fredrickson and Cline discuss the stigmatizing effect of pupils being segregated, suggesting that this can lead to the construction of a negative self image (Fredrickson and Cline: 2002: 63) Not only does Alex’s concurrent attendance at a specialist school contest the idea of inclusive education, but it is also, arguably, complicit in his disengagement with school and his peers. In response to stigmatisation of this sort, it has been proposed that binaries such as those arising from ideas of ‘sameness’ and ‘difference’ should be eradicated (Price and Shildrick: 1998: 255) Although this idea may seem to be conducive to the effective inclusion all, historically, it also gives rise to further problems and forms of ‘injustice’, such as pupils not getting the support or recognition that they require in order to achieve success in a mainstream school (Armstrong: 2003: 15)
This can be related to Gewirtz’s ideas about ‘having to sacrifice some forms of justice in order to achieve others’ In order for Alex’s needs to be met ‘distributional’ it is necessary for him to be ‘recognised’ as needing attidional support (this means going to a specialist school) and being separated from the rest of the class. This idea contests inclusion. However, if we consider that ‘disability is merely a human construct, we are over-simplifying the situation. And this can have undesirable effects, historically, (Armstrong, Benjamin, also discuss Fredrickson and Cline, who discuss the effect of equal treatment) The effects of Alex not being included on a regular basis means that he requires extra help in class and although. To some extent, this is possible; there is a tension between group and individual rights. This argument can be seen as: a democratic classroom, impinging on the liberalism of one child (or vice versa). In this sense, inclusion can be problematic. Discuss how the school attempt to overcome this through collaboration (learning assistant), etc however this is still stigmatising and socially excluding the child. (discuss how this can be linked to the construction of a negative self image). This idea of cohesion within the school helping to make the education of children more inclusive can be extended to schools connections with discuss how there are pros and cons to having a learning assistant however it may be a necessary. (Fredickson and Cline)
The Scottish Government’s 2005 report ‘Happy, safe and achieving their potential.’ States that:
“Schools and parents are partners working in children’s and young people’s best interests. Schools must reach out to create partnerships with all parents. (SEED, 2005: 5)
That was something that was happening at Carlton primary school and something which Alex’s parents took advantage of. (perhaps discuss that this is available to parents who want support and all the things that the school did to make links) Why did Jess’s parent’s not make links with the school? Perhaps distributive justice is a reason: time, money, supplies. Or associative justice, privileges those with cultural capital, parents are bound to engage in more economically productive activities than schooling (Gewirtz) suggest that school would have to make schooling seem like a more worthwhile endeavour (how?) look up research (greissen, about home links being beneficial, think about today’s lecture here about (getting it right for every child)
Go on to discuss the importance of links with the school, discuss the fact that the school was very inclusive and that Alex seemed to benefit from this but why did Jess’s parents not get in contact with the school, discuss act here stating about parental involvement, then theories, practice. Parents and Carers. Schools and parents are partners working in children’s and young people’s best interests. Schools must reach out to create partnerships with all parents.(happy, safe)
(Associational injustice – Associational justice privileges those with cultural capital, jess is from a working class background and therefore she is not predisposed to ‘do school’ as some middle class children might be.
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