Inclusion is integral to all schools and should not be confused with integration. As defined by Evans (2007): 'Inclusion is the creation of a learning environment where barriers to learning are avoided where possible'. It is an intricate area for discussion and schools have different visions as to what an inclusive school should entail. In order to plan effectively and meet the diverse needs of individuals, it is imperative that schools embed inclusion within the curriculum and wider school practice. This discussion will reflect on the principles and significance of inclusion which will be cross referenced with my experience in school.
The National Curriculum stipulates three statutory inclusion principles that schools must adhere to so that children can access a 'broad and balanced curriculum' (QCA, 1999): These are: 'setting suitable learning challenges, responding to pupils' diverse learning needs, overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils'. These are aspirational principles as all three elements need to be balanced in order to develop an inclusive classroom practice. We shall now explore each principle in more detail.
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Setting suitable leaning challenges is essential to meet children's needs by creating the opportunity for them to experience success in learning. This is reinforced by the Excellence and Enjoyment documentation (2003) which states that an inclusive education can only be accomplished by having a 'culture of high expectations'. It recognises that personalised learning is important to address the inclusion agenda.
'…personalised learning… is the single most important force in mainstreaming the support that is given to pupils… to try and tackle the resistant lengthy tail of underachievement, especially of pupils from areas of disadvantage'. (Excellence and Enjoyment, 2003, Cited in Cambridge Primary Review, 2009, p. 133)
From my school experience, the children are grouped according to ability for numeracy and literacy. This enables the teacher to set appropriate learning objectives for the group and differentiate the work by outcome. This can have a positive learning impact for children as they can be effectively challenged within their capabilities. It is also more practical for teachers (and my practice) as it enables them to plan the teaching and learning more realistically whilst being inclusive of children's learning needs (Q19, Q22). In relation to this, Tod and Ellis (2010) reinforce an important notion:
…'while by practical necessity, you will need to group pupils in order to make lesson planning and delivery manageable, you will of course need to be aware of each pupil as an individual learner, and be able to evaluate whether your inclusive teaching has enabled them , as individuals to make progress'. (Tod and Ellis, 2010, p. 266)
However children progress at different rates, which can further challenge the planning and teaching. For example, within my base class, there is a small minority who are gifted and talented; it is essential that they are consistently challenged within their capabilities so that they do not regress in progress. Similarly it is important that other groups are also challenged so that it mitigates behavioural issues and they can reach their learning potential too. Therefore having high expectations of all children and working with the teaching assistants is important to stretch and motivate learners (Q1, Q25d, Q33). I think there needs to be a balance in grouping by ability otherwise it could be argued that children are being excluded. This is because they are unable to observe what higher ability work entails and could restrict their progression. Therefore it maybe more effective to have mixed ability groups for certain numeracy and literacy based tasks. This also provides the opportunity for the higher ability to support the lower ability peers.
The second principle focuses on meeting children's diverse needs by addressing that; there are gender differences, they learn in different ways and come from different social and cultural backgrounds. All these elements need to be accommodated and incorporated into the planning and teaching to sustain an inclusive classroom practice. More importantly, equality of opportunity must be promoted so that children can reach their individual potential.
Children learn in different ways, the predominant styles are visual, auditory or kinaesthetic learners. Therefore it is imperative that teachers carefully plan and employ different teaching styles to be inclusive of their needs (Q10, Q25a, b). From my school experience, I have observed the practical difficulties to address this issue; therefore certain lessons may focus on a particular approach. I believe that it is important in certain situations for children to record their work based on their preferred methods of working to be inclusive.
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Accommodating gender differences is also critical. In the past, there has been the assertion that boys underachieve compared to girls; which has ultimately led to lower expectations. Fortunately this outlook has changed and recognising the strengths and interests of both groups and incorporating this into planning is essential to develop an inclusive practice (Q18). From my school observations and practical experience, cross-curricular themes that will interest all children are promoted so that they can enjoy and achieve. In addition they encourage mixed gender paired or group work to encourage positive outcomes. One notable example is that the school promotes a mixed boys and girls football team which is rotated so that it is inclusive of all children regardless of ability. This is a prime example of wider school inclusion and for children to develop positive attitudes.
Most schools embed multicultural elements within the curriculum as they recognise that children come from different ethnic minority backgrounds and are growing up in a multicultural society. Therefore it is important that they develop positive attitudes and are aware of different beliefs and values amongst cultures. The Swan Report (1985) highlighted that 'multicultural education' was not simply for ethnic minority groups. This is an important point otherwise it would contradict the notion of inclusiveness. It should also be noted that in some schools the demographics have changed in which there are a larger proportion of ethnic minority groups than White British children; therefore this group is at risk at being excluded which should not be overlooked. In my base school there are a small proportion of children from ethnic minority backgrounds. The school recognises the importance of celebrating diversity and providing a cultural rich education. For example, Religious Education and cross-curricular themes is a route where diversity is planned within the lessons and celebrated to gain an insight into other cultures. I think this is essential so that children can develop the knowledge, skills and attitudes to play a fulfilling part in the diverse society (Q2, Q25a). This reinforces Evans (2007) key message:
'Rather than pretending that we are 'all the same', we have to acknowledge and sometimes celebrate differences, not least in the visual images displayed around the school'. (Evans 2007: p. 11)
Overcoming barriers to learning is essential to enable all children to access the curriculum. It involves mitigating any barriers that may impact all children's learning such as those with SEN or EAL. SEN covers a broad spectrum therefore provisions will vary according to their needs. In my base class, there are currently two children with SEN who receive School Action plus support. The class teacher works with the SENCO who advises on the individual educational plans and effective ways to personalise learning. In terms of my practice it will be important to seek the advice of the SENCO and experienced colleagues to ensure SEN and EAL provisions are suitable (Q6, Q20, Q21b). Assessment for learning as with all children is important to inform planning so that the tasks can be differentiated and personalised at the correct level (Q19, Q25c). Classroom strategies are also deployed such as the use of 'pictorial cards' and giving simple instructions to reinforce tasks to reduce any anxiety they may experience. As mentioned above, I believe that it is important that these children also work with higher ability peers so that they are not excluded. Bearne (2010) noted, 'labelling' children can have an adverse effect as it can detract from using a range of teaching pedagogies.
Children with EAL can be confident in their own language and with the right support can catch up with their peers and even excel in cases. In my base school they promote 'quality first inclusive teaching' and provide enriched speaking and listening opportunities to develop their English. They also have a 'Narrative Group' which encourages this too. I believe interventions are important in order for children to progress; but it is essential that they are not continuously withdrawn from the classroom environment otherwise they are being excluded. One alternative approach would be for their peers to work with them as they are likely to develop their speaking skills effectively.
Children's development factors can affect their learning and it is important to address these influences to ensure that the wider scope of inclusion is considered. The ECM agenda highlights how a child's well-being and achievement are interconnected. All schools have a duty to ensure that the ECM outcomes are positive for all children to ensure they are inclusive of their development needs. In my base-school ECM is a whole-school approach. There are many children from deprived social backgrounds, who are entitled to free school meals; some have behavioural and social difficulties. The reward structures, lunchtime clubs and various school monitor jobs are inclusive to all children regardless of background and this is a mechanism to boost their self-esteem and for them to enjoy and achieve. In addition the SEAL programme is also followed as it helps children to develop essential social skills and manage emotional stresses to promote effective learning. From my observations and practical experience, SEAL is highly important as children learn best when they feel safe, secure and respected by others; circle time is a prime mechanism to address this (Q21b).
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Overall, in terms of my practice it would be essential to understand the different needs of learners and differentiate work to accommodate individual differences and learning influences. Liaising with experienced colleagues would be essential to ensure that I have inclusive provisions in place; this will not only benefit children's educational achievements but also develop their self-esteem and social skills too. Developing an inclusive practice requires a shared vision by all staff working cohesively with the wider community and children.