I was a little surprised but also honoured to be a panel member alongside @nancygedge, @JulesDaulby, @oldandrewuk and @maximisingTAs at this years #educationfest. As much fun as it was the debate left me thinking about the issues more.
The theme of the debate was: Is inclusion working?
It was immediately evident that a definition of inclusion in practice was not clear. Our personal experiences and views, though not miles apart, were all nuanced and complex. Days before I had been reading about Margaret Calvert who had recently died. She was one of the key designers of the road signs used throughout the United Kingdom, famed for their easy to understand pictograms. You look at them and you understand them. When ever I need to look at the issue of inclusion I just see a mass of contradictions, barriers and smoke screens and this is before policy, funding or testing pressure comes into focus. @nancygedge noted that you know it when you feel it. The problem in this is you have to trust that it will be there, you have to hope you have made the right choice. That is another of the thousands of pressures on parents and careers of SEND children to have to deal with. If only it was as simple as Margaret Calvert’s road signs?
I mentioned in part of the debate that I felt (through experience) that not all schools were as inclusive in their practice. I had learnt through running specialists provision that amazing things could be achieved once you welcomed a child in to your school with open arms and a desire to MAKE the placement work (well I said this in my head at least). I noted that a big barrier was ‘the fear’ many heads feel when asked to take on the challenges of additional need and more complex SEND. I have many tales to tell about heads who have said, “This school is not for you.” Or words to that effect. I have had long debates with my SLT about our own capacity and I have questioned why we are taking on additional challenge when we need to ensure that we are offering the best we can for the children already with us. Nobody thanks you for running a school in to the ground, no matter how good you feel about your principles and purpose.
You have to know your school, your staff, your community and the strengths and gaps you have. As hard as this sounds one school can not keep saying “Yes, it is the right thing to do”. It may be the right thing to do but this might not mean it is the best thing to do. I liken this to blind philanthropy. Thinking you are doing the moral thing but in fact missing the bigger picture. I see it in the specialist sector often. Another example is the opening of a park for a Special School day or putting on a ‘special performance’ at the local theatre. This isn’t inclusion… It is exclusion in many ways. It is the systems way of grouping SEND children together and keeping them away from others. When I think about it – it makes me feel sick. I read something by @JarlathOBrien I think that evidenced the terrible treatment of pupils at a fun fair. Quite often what ‘trying to do Inclusion’ does is exclude, belittle and misunderstand. At times, I wonder if Inclusion in education is in fact a barrier?
See, all this topic does is raise more questions… Someone should write a book about it! (@nancygedge has!)
I came away from the debate, at Wellington college, watching some of the fee paying students playing cricket, in their salubrious surroundings and I walked to my car suddenly reminded I was in a post European Union UK; which had narrowly voted to stand alone and then it hit me (not the cricket ball) I suddenly realised that unless the principles of inclusion are universal, unless we lived in a totally inclusive society – the term inclusion in education is nothing more than a progressively varied set of standards applied differently to children with SEND up and down the country. It is the wrong term and it is not a fair or consistent approach. We need a better definition of the rights and responsibilities we have to educate all children fairly. It needs to be consistently applied across all sectors of education and it must be valued and measured in the correct ways… I have never heard a parent say they want better grades but I have been hugged, watched staff get flowers, kisses, high fives, tear jerking letters and cards and many other celebrations for being part of the progress that makes a difference to the child’s and the families life. This is often what might look like the smallest thing from the outside.
I am not sure our current system will ever allow all schools to be fully inclusive because the stakes are often too high if it goes wrong.