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Differences in educational opportunities for children depend not only on their individual cultural, economical, health or disability circumstances, but also on where they live and the ways in which educational systems are structured, regulated and supported...Regardless of these differences, there is widespread acknowledgment that teachers play a crucial role in providing quality education. (Florian & Rouse, 2009, p.594)
Given that inclusion is a key priority within Scottish education, this essay will critically discuss the concept of 'an inclusive school' and its implications for teachers. There are many factors which can create a barrier to participation or hinder a child's learning, however for the purpose of this essay, the focus for discussion will be narrowed down to consider: a Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), teaching and assessment methods, additional support needs (ASN) and child poverty. These issues have been carefully selected with consideration to current educational issues and policies in Scotland, placement experience and with genuine interest to these issues and the implications they may have for teachers and their implementation of inclusive teaching practice. Furthermore, CfE, teaching and assessment methods, ASN and child poverty are issues that all teachers working in Scotland will have to consider during their career with regards to inclusion and whilst working as part of 'an inclusive school'.
Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education state that an inclusive establishment is one in which the rationale for inclusion is clear to all members of the community and where inclusion is encouraged in practice (HMIE, 2008, Inclusion reference manual). Inclusion is an important issue in Scottish education, however inclusive practice has not been entirely embraced and implemented throughout the country. This may be due to a difference in opinions, uncertainty and misunderstandings as to what inclusion actually is and who inclusion is for (Allan 2008a), which would therefore present difficulties for teachers practicing within HMIE's definition of 'an inclusive school' and their implementation of inclusive teaching practice. Newly qualified teachers may have a different understanding of inclusive teaching practice than the more experienced teachers, thus possibly causing further uncertainty, frustration and/or self doubt.
As before mentioned, teachers play a crucial role in providing quality education (Florian & Rouse, 2009, p.594). If teachers are at the forefront of providing inclusive education, then it is a concern that so many teachers have different views and opinions towards inclusion. Studies have shown that newly qualified teachers are more optimistic and have a more positive attitude towards inclusion than their more experienced colleagues, who are said to have a more realistic view on inclusion. It was noted that after the probationary year, teachers have a far less positive view, and are much less enthusiastic about inclusion (Seith, 2008). An insight into a possible reason for a lack of enthusiasm towards inclusion is suggested by Allan (2008b). Many teachers have concerns and self doubts about their ability to include, without clear guidance from policy or legislation on how to implement inclusive teaching practice. Many teachers feel that it is difficult to perform to high expectations with regards to inclusion, when they receive limited support and resources (Allan, 2008b). Limited support is a concern for teachers who are trying to practice inclusion within "an inclusive school" as a lack of support, guidance and/or resources may have an effect on the teacher's ability to include all children depending on their individual circumstances.
Articles 28 and 29 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) state that education should nurture and develop the talents and abilities of each child to their fullest potential and serve to prepare children for living happily in a liberal society (UNCRC, 1989). These values could be said to be reflected in the purpose of CfE, its principles and the four capacities: successful learners, responsible citizens, confident individuals and effective contributors. CfE is for all children aged between 3-18 and aims to ensure that all children and young people in Scotland, regardless of their individual circumstances are provided with opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge and qualities required for life long learning (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2010, the purpose of the curriculum). Equality is at the heart of CfE with the four capacities being achievable for all children and therefore providing the opportunity for more children to participate and achieve in all areas of the curriculum. Therefore 'an inclusive school' is one where CfE is fully embraced by all, and where teachers are supported with their implementation of CfE through opportunities for continuing their professional development throughout their careers.
In order for a Curriculum for Excellence to be a success, it is important that individual teachers are committed to developing their own skills and teaching practice and keeping up to date with new approaches to teaching and learning (Curriculum for Excellence, 2006, implications). However recent research carried out by The Education Institute Scotland, has shown that many teachers have voiced their concerns over CfE. These concerns are with regards to there being an additional workload, a shortage of time for planning and the effective implementation of CfE with the lack of clear, specific instructions (EIS, 2010, Survey of Members). It could be argued however, that the broad and general experiences and outcomes of CfE are a positive feature of Scottish Education and are an important part of inclusion and inclusive practice within the school. If there were to be precise instruction as to how to implement CfE, it would surely contradict the values of CfE, and the autonomy and professional role of the teacher. With the implementation of CfE, teachers have the flexibility to apply appropriate assessment procedures and use their own professional judgment with regards to progression and responding to the individual needs of children (Reid, 2008). However, a possible concern for teachers, particularly newly qualified teachers and student teachers with regards to implementing CfE within 'the inclusive school', as with the term 'inclusion', is the range of mixed feelings and opinions towards CfE.
Mixed feelings were clearly evident during placement experience, with some teachers speaking very positively towards CfE whilst others expressing less enthusiastic opinions. The views towards CfE were somewhat reflected in the teaching strategies of some teachers; this was noted during observation periods as well as during discussions with a range of teachers (newly qualified and experienced). A variety of teaching strategies were observed during placement, with teachers who expressed negative feelings towards CfE favouring a more direct teaching approach, in comparison to the teachers with positive views towards CfE who used a variety of teaching strategies such as collaborative and active learning, which were appropriate for the particular learning experience and in response to the interests and needs of the children.
Appropriate teaching and assessment methods play an important role within 'an inclusive school' with teaching approaches being inclusive and specifically tailored to meet the interests and needs of the individual children and where assessment methods are used, which further support the learning. CfE assesses progress and achievement through Assessment is for Learning (Aifl) where "assessment approaches should promote learner engagement and ensure appropriate support so that all learners can achieve their aspirational goals and maximise their potential" (Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2010, principles of assessment). Assessment therefore, requires teachers to make professional judgments about children's learning, where sound evidence and professional integrity is at the heart of the decision making process. The most effective assessment approaches are ones which are fair to all involved: children, young people, parents and communities and which avoid any pre-conceptions and stereotypes (Scottish Government, 2010, a framework for assessment). A possible implication or concern however for teachers, with regards to the use of assessment which coincides with CfE, is that teachers may have varied opinions on what constitutes as a person being a successful learner, confident individual, responsible citizen or an effective contributor. Placement experience highlighted this concern further. Award ceremonies on alternate Thursdays, seen children receive rewards for showing that they had proven themselves to be either a successful learner, confident individual, responsible citizen or an effective contributor. It was noted that what each class teacher perceived as an achievement with regards to the four capacities, could be questionable depending on personal opinion.
'An inclusive school' aims to respond to the interests, needs and abilities of the learner and as before mentioned, a positive aspect of CfE is the reinstatement of professional autonomy and the flexibility that teachers have when implementing teaching approaches which are tailored to the needs of individual children (Reid, 2008). However questions have been raised with regards to teachers being sufficiently educated and trained to work with children who require additional support for learning. Teachers in Scotland must be appropriately qualified in order to work with children who have visual and/or hearing impairments (The requirements for teachers (Scotland) regulations 2005). However teachers do not need additional qualifications to work with any other group of children with ASN (MacKay & McLarty, 2008a). This may be of concern to teachers as well as parents, as most children will require additional support for learning at some point during their school careers, with many situations such as disability, being bullied, bereavement in the family, homelessness, being the child of an asylum seeker or being a bilingual learner, leading to a child or young person requiring additional support for their learning (MacKay & McLarty, 2008b). Baroness Mary Warnock (2010, The Cynical betrayal of my special needs children) believes that without specialist knowledge, teachers may actually do more harm than good when teaching children with ASN, particularly those with more severe learning difficulties such as, severely dyslexic children. Another concern for parents and teachers is Baroness Mary Warnock's 'U turn' in opinion towards mainstream education for all, since the Warnock report was published in 1978. Warnock now states that mainstream education for all, was never what she or the committee proposed in the first place. "What the committee actually recommended was that the large number of children with moderate learning difficulties already in mainstream schools should be identified, and their needs provided for where they were" (Warnock, 2010, The Cynical betrayal of my special needs children).
A key educational policy in Scotland is the inclusion of all children in mainstream schools. An implication for teachers in mainstream schools, particularly student and newly qualified teachers is the ability to support children with ASN, particularly those who have more severe learning difficulties, such as autism or severe dyslexia. The concern not only lies in the ability to support children with such learning difficulties, but also with creating a suitable learning environment for all children within the classroom, when many of the children have varied learning needs. Many teachers are concerned about their ability to meet the needs of all children in the mainstream classroom, with the limited resources they have (Mittler 2000; Hanko 2005 cited in Allan, 2010). Limited resources may be a worry for teachers working within 'an inclusive school' with concern also expressed by NASUWT Teachers Union, who say that it is vital for children and young people to be educated in appropriate settings for their individual needs and aspirations, with access to necessary resources. "Mainstream schools cannot be expected to cater for pupils with special needs without adequate and appropriate staffing and resources" (NASUWT, 2009). Current budget cuts across Scotland and throughout the UK are a cause for concern with regards to teachers having appropriate resources and specialist support staff. With a lack of necessary resources and support it could be argued that teachers will struggle to include all children within 'the inclusive school'.
According to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Education, 'An Inclusive Establishment' is one in which there is effective working relationships with pupils, parents and other agencies who are committed to the health, wellbeing and education of children and young people (HMIE, 2008, Inclusion reference manual). It has been observed during a number of school placement experiences, that effective working relationships are vitally important in providing inclusive practice. However, it was also noted during placement experience that effective working relationships are not always possible, particularly those between teacher/school and the parents.
It was witnessed during placement experience with a Primary 7 class of 32 pupils, which had no support in the form of classroom assistants or behavioural therapists that during most lessons, a large amount of the teacher's time and attention was given to one child within the class who has behavioural issues. Although the teacher had implemented a number of effective behaviour management, teaching and assessment techniques, there was still a noticeable effect on the other children in the class, who for different reasons required the teachers support, but were unable to receive the support they needed, whether this was advice, help, encouragement or praise. The classroom teacher had no support from the child's parents, and senior management avoided taking action which involved suspension as the child's wellbeing whilst at home was also a concern. This left the teacher in a catch 22 situation, with trying to manage the child's behaviour as well as the safety of the child and the other children within the classroom. It was felt by the teacher that more support from parents, senior management and other agencies was needed.
'An inclusive school' therefore, provides support for teachers with their inclusive practice and offers support for teachers to enable them to work effectively with children who have ASN. However, without vital support in the form of CPD, parental, senior staff support and support from other agencies such as specialist teachers, social services and behavioural therapists, it could be argued that many classroom teachers would struggle to implement inclusive practice in the classroom without such support.
Another key aspect of educational debate in Scotland is children living in poverty and its effect on learning. The Scottish Government Statistical Publications recorded that 17.9% of all children (primary and secondary) in Scotland are entitled to receive a free school meal (School Meals in Scotland, 2010). These statistics are an indication of low family income and the number of school age children who are regarded as living in poverty. The Scottish executive stresses the importance of inclusion and equality in Scotland and states that all children must be given the best possible start in life, regardless of their family background (Scottish Government, 2004). 'An Inclusive school' therefore, is aware of the differences in children's backgrounds and take steps to ensure that discriminatory behaviour or bullying is prevented or eliminated.
Many schools in Scotland use a swipe card system, which allows children to get their lunch without anyone knowing who is entitled to free school meals. It was noticed during placement experience that many primary school teachers have different methods of taking the lunch register and allocating dinner tickets to those children who are entitled to a free school meal. In the senior stages of the primary school, the children collected their own dinner tickets, meaning there was no need to broadcast to the class who required a free meal. This worked well in ensuring children who required dinner tickets were not singled out, as in the upper stages of the primary school the children are much more aware of such issues.
School uniform policies are also a positive feature within 'the inclusive school' as it ensures that all children are equal and that children can't compare what they have with one another, ensuring no child is singled out or is made to feel inadequate if they do not own the same type of branded clothes as their peers. Although there are many school policies which aim to ensure inclusion and equality within the school, it could be argued that some school trips contradict the purpose of policies that promote equality, such as the school uniform policy. It was observed during placement experience that 5 out of the 33 children in the class were not taking part in the school trip, because their parents could not afford to send them away for the week long trip with the school. These children were therefore excluded from the school trip as well as excluded from the class discussions about the trip that took place on numerous occasions on the lead up to the trip.
In conclusion, whilst taking into account the areas selected for discussion, CfE, teaching and assessment strategies, ASN and Child poverty, 'an inclusive school' is one in which equality is at the heart of the teaching and learning, where every child, regardless of their ability is provided with learning experiences suited to their needs and abilities. 'An inclusive school' is not only about the children. Instead 'an inclusive school' includes all children, school staff, parents and other agencies, who work together to ensure that barriers to learning are removed, teachers supported and parents and children included in the school decision making.
As discussed, there are implications for teachers within 'an inclusive school' who may face challenges to their inclusive teaching practice. Challenges include the effective inclusion of children with learning difficulties, with limited resources and/or specialist support staff, the implication of CfE and the use of appropriate teaching and assessment methods. Allan (2010c) states that inclusion will benefit when teachers realise that there isn't a magic answer to inclusion or any instruction manual for teachers to follow. Therefore, to conclude, 'an inclusive school' isn't one that has all the answers to inclusion. Instead it is one where all members of staff are committed to providing inclusive practice and equal opportunities for all children and young people. 'An Inclusive School' is always seeking to further develop its inclusive practice, where teachers have a willingness and enthusiasm towards improving their own teaching skills and methods.