Inclusive education means quality first, not second guessing
Having an inclusive ethos only really means something if it translates into insightful practice that makes a positive difference to the educational experiences and outcomes of every child, writes Andy Yarrow.
I attended my first INSET day as an NQT in September 1991. Hard to believe, I know! The theme of the training was differentiation for children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND). Thirty years on and this is something that many teachers still find extremely difficult. Some prefer the concept of scaffolding, but that doesn’t always make it any easier…
There has long been debate about the proportion of children who really have special educational needs. In some countries, the concept of SEND barely exists. Several national reports on SEND have challenged the number of children historically on many schools’ SEND registers, arguing that a significant proportion don’t really have special education needs at all, but rather have just been badly taught or their behaviour managed ineffectively. It is certainly the case that, for a number of reasons, many schools’ SEN registers are not as lengthy as they once were. But the very real needs of a significant proportion of the children and young people in the majority of our schools remain a huge challenge for us.
One theory why many teachers find it difficult to personalise learning for pupils with SEND is that they cannot empathise with them. The argument being that because the majority of teachers were relatively successful at school, and did not experience the barriers to learning that a considerable proportion of children face, it is difficult for them to see their lessons through the lens of the most vulnerable. So perhaps empathy is the key? Certainly, where teachers work hard to ensure that there is clarity, inclusivity and sensitivity to emotional needs in their teaching, all learners benefit.
Surely a truly inclusive ethos means promoting the best possible outcomes and educational experiences for all learners?
Of course, simply describing your school as inclusive is no guarantee of a high-quality of education for all. Indeed, there are many schools that would consider themselves inclusive where children with additional and special educational needs underperform because of low expectations and a failure to meet their needs. Surely a truly inclusive ethos means promoting the best possible outcomes and educational experiences for all learners? This is echoed in the wording of the Headteacher Standards, which state that Headteachers must:
ensure the school holds ambitious expectations for all pupils with additional and special educational needs and disabilities
establish and sustain culture and practices that enable pupils to access the curriculum and learn effectively
ensure the school works effectively in partnership with parents, carers and professionals, to identify the additional needs and special educational needs and disabilities of pupils, providing support and adaptation where appropriate
ensure the school fulfils its statutory duties with regard to the SEND code of practice.
So how do we make this happen? Three decades on from that INSET day in 1991, this was the subject of a more recent discussion with colleagues about pupils with SEND — this time during a visit to one of our primary schools. We concluded that our Trust commitment to inclusion and high aspirations for all is only of any benefit if we make a positive difference to the educational experiences and outcomes of every child, based on ongoing high-quality professional development.
Quality first teaching that is truly inclusive requires an investment in rigorous, in-depth and regular training for all teaching staff to ensure that they have an accurate understanding of the complex range of educational needs faced by children and the strategies required to address these effectively. And this is something we must invest in — in all senses of the word — to empower our teachers and ensure all children in our schools truly thrive.