Twitter has been buzzing with discussion of inclusion this New Year. From my role as a SENCO and Early Years Lead Teacher today, back to my days as a classroom teacher, inclusion is, and has been one of the most significant parts of the job. As a parent, its been there too. I have faced the problem of ensuring my very OCD son was able to get to and stay in class (there were days when he ran out of school without shoes because someone splashed water on him by accident) and on a more minor level, I still struggle to decide whether the youngest is really dyslexic and needs support in Y10, or just lazy. Inclusion. You can’t exclude it whatever level you are on.
As a SENCO and Lead Teacher in a Children’s Centre I now get to visit a lot of schools and special schools. Experience shows me that the provision for SEND in primary schools can differ wildly, from the superb through to the cursory. Some SENCOs go to extraordinary lengths to use their budgets to include all children and ensure they have access to the same as their peers and achieve. Other schools- and these are also in my experience mostly the high achieving Ofsted ‘outstanding’ ones – give a derisory consideration to the needs of individuals with inflexible support and rigid systems (that also seem to leave enough budget for the fancy corporate trimmings). So as a SENCO, its often important to get an EHCP so that the parents can name the provision that they know will best meet the child’s needs, even if they are in the catchment for the ‘popular’ school. This in itself is a battle – but one worth fighting.
During my classroom years, of course there were lots of days I tore my hair out trying to meet the needs of the highly autistic child, the challenging behaviour of the recently adopted child with huge attachment disorder, the aggressive behaviour of the child who was basically being beaten and starved daily at home (but social care apparently didn’t have enough evidence to anything yet), the child with the rare disease who missed 2 days a week for hospital treatment and often needed to use a wheel chair, and the child with an undiagnosed, but significant learning difficulty – oh and of course the need to run a highly organised, buzzing classroom with great academic outcomes. I could have chosen to teach in one of the many leafy, or private schools in our city, but I didn’t. I am a teacher. It’s my job to teach them all. Some days were harder than others, but over all it was a joy and a privilege, and every day I became a better teacher, even if I do have more wrinkles.
The children without additional learning difficulties or needs, undoubtedly develop greater characteristics for learning, and personal skills because they are learning alongside those who do. We talk openly about similarities and differences, they learn that their own personal needs were not always the most important, they learn that people who are different from them also deserve respect and access to the same opportunities as them where ever possible. Their educational outcomes do not suffer, it would be interesting to research if their long term outcomes are enhanced by their tolerance, understanding and learning skills.
My own adult world is not particularly segregated. I have worked with colleagues with Aspergers, kidney disease, bi-polar, vision impairment and hearing impairment, all of them great at their jobs. Changing things to meet their needs benefits us all, not just them. Myself, I am the stressed single parent struggling to raise three children whilst working full-time, who doesn’t have time for many late meetings and I can’t do the early SLT shift at 7.30 am. My workplace & colleagues make sure I can be the best I can at my job. Step outside of the staffroom and the world becomes even more SEND diverse.. and well, interesting. Take the time to look beyond perfection and Inclusion has so many more benefits than deficits.
The question posed is should there be some form of segregation? Of course, there are times when a child’s needs are such that only specialist support away from mainstream settings for some or all of the time can meet them, but for the majority of children with SEND for the majority of the time? Not on my watch.