The Problem with Inclusion

I saw that there was a bit of a ding dong on Twitter about a video featuring @tombennet. I chose not to watch the video as I have met Tom on numerous occasions and he’s visited my very inclusive school a couple of times. I know that Tom advocates meeting the needs of ALL young people so I’m not certain what he said, in the video, that upset some people that I have respect for!

Seeing the comments flying around was a really uncomfortable read; with the usual suspects dropping in to support either side of the debate. However it did make me stop to consider the impact of the openly inclusive ethos at Passmores which we celebrate loudly; as do one or two of my colleague headteachers when they tell the parents/carers of some young people (almost without fail those with additional learning challenges) that they can’t meet their child’s needs but Passmores can! This has led to over 50% of school age young people with an EHCP in our town attending Passmores (there are six secondary schools in Harlow) and I accept that this poses an increased challenge for us to meet all of their needs.

A few of the tweeters seemed to confuse SEND with poor behaviour, which showed a surprising level of ignorance for people that have been teaching for some time. The big point of the argument was how unfair it was to expect staff to meet the needs of a group of young people that included those with SEND and/or the negative impact on the learning of the ‘other’ students in the class.

I struggled with this whole premise if I’m honest. Our job is to meet the needs of the community we serve. That community includes many young people from different cultures, religious beliefs etc. I think stating that we shouldn’t be expected to meet the needs of students with SEND to be as ridiculous as stating we shouldn’t meet the needs of Catholics or left handed people.

The argument seemed to be about the wrong issue in my opinion. Schools should be inclusive of the whole community they serve but that inclusivity should not disadvantage anyone else. It really is that simple. However if schools are not equipped with systems and staff to support the young people and teachers then it will be very difficult to avoid the negative impact on others that inclusion can have, on occasion.

So whose fault is it? If a teacher makes no effort to plan well differentiated lessons, that meet the needs of all students, then that is fundamentally unacceptable of course. However it is the responsibility of the head/governors to ensure that the teachers have the requisite skills and resources to be able to do so and if they don’t the governing body should ensure they hold the head to account for that.

It is unacceptable for a school to actively discourage young people from being members of their school because they can’t be bothered to think through the support required and it is even worse when that decision is driven by league tables or ofsted judgements. In my mind any school that isn’t sharing the whole community responsibility for young people with SEND should only receive ‘requires improvement’ at best when externally judged. However, as we know, it has definitely been the complete reverse of that and this seems to be one of the flaws that Ofsted have yet to rectify.

The funding of schools that go above and beyond their ‘share’ of SEND needs to reflect the complexity of the work they do. The current system is full of tensions with local authorities under resourcing EHCPs because they don’t have enough money and schools having to lose their best in class support staff (called co-educators at Passmores) as we are funded at such a low level that it doesn’t encourage schools to train, and keep, experienced, high quality staff as they get increasingly expensive every year.

Inclusion is fundamentally about ‘botheredness’ and resources; and if either is missing many people are negatively impacted – staff and young people regardless of whether they are in receipt of an EHCP or not – and that is unacceptable.

12 thoughts on “The Problem with Inclusion

  1. Is there ever a point at Passmores where a student’s behaviour cannot be accommodated in the standard classroom? You make it sound as though any student can be accepted into the classroom provided the teacher is “bothered” and has enough resources. Is that what you mean? I think you should watch Tom’s video because what he is saying is the exact opposite of what you are saying.

    1. It isn’t about behaviour. It is about meeting needs. I’m sure Tom has many opinions that are different to mine but I know that, fundamentally, there is little difference in our overall outlook.

    2. It’s absolutely not about behaviour – it’s about meeting special or additional learning needs and any education professional who, in 2016, doesn’t get this should be reflecting on whether their choice of career is the most appropriate for them. Behaviour is not a SEND.

  2. An extremely insightful, honest and fair comment on how inclusion should really look like. I would love to come and have a look at how you work (I’m based in Bishops Stortford ).

  3. I was a student at Passmores in the 1960s. At least 4 of my cohort became teachers, I have now retired.. but my daughter is teaching in the poorest funded area in the country. It is a crying shame that the govt can build a high speed train that nobody wants, encourage builders of expensive housing that nobody can afford and not support those who educate the next generation. Whether gifted or SEND all children and teachers deserve fair funding

  4. Fantastic piece that manages to sum up a very complex issue in two words- understanding & ‘botheredness’. The lazy-link educators commonly make between SEND & behaviour is that too few teachers & co-educators understand that all behaviour is communication; therefore poor or disruptive and even more extreme behaviour is communication of an unmet need. Most commonly SEND and/or social/environmental (home).

    Once this is understood it requires the school to be bothered to identify the need which is not being met and make efforts to address it. This means applying that age old process of trial and error and inevitably time and inevitably needs a commitment of resources.

    Given that this is not a pure science and improvements are rarely seen overnight it is becoming increasingly difficult for schools to ‘justify’ this financial commitment to individual pupils for such little quantifiable gain.

    Finally, as providing full time education to excluded pupils from the 6th day of an exclusion remains one of the statutory duties of the LA the buck does not stop with those school leaders & governors who lack the understanding or commitment of this marginalised group.

    I understand the significant pressures school leaders are facing but sometimes we need to step back and reflect on our sense of moral purpose that brought us into the profession and attracted us to work in the various communities we serve and consider the implications for these communities in 20 years time if these vulnerable pupils are allowed to slip through the school safety net.

  5. Having recently retired I have seen this from both sides. I was a Senco and senior leader in mainstream education and a head of a special school. There are a large number of young people with SEND whose needs can be met effectively in mainstream. There are though exceptions where an individual’s needs are so complex that they cannot. These youngsters will benefit from the specialist skills/resources of an effective special school. Some of the most damaged youngsters I have dealt with in special schools are those who mainstream tried to hold onto for too long. Misplaced inclusivity can be damaging in the extreme.

    You are also right on two other points:

    1) It is unfair that inclusive mainstream schools pick up more SEND pupils than neighbouring schools that are less inclusive. Those schools that cannot be bothered add immorally to the pressures on those that can. Ofsted’s failure to challenge the non-inclusive is an indictment on their fairness.
    2) Inclusivity in mainstream can only be delivered with appropriate staffing levels and resourcing.

    Two other thoughts on this issue:

    1) The 2015 SEND legislation is cruel, It is strong on rhetoric, encourages parents to believe they will have enhanced rights and yet fails to acknowledge resourcing implications. In too many authorities ECHPs see a lack of representation of health or social care. Effective ECHPs have a staff cost that has been ignored. Overstretched services cannot be stretched any further.
    2) The best mainstream schools work in partnership with special schools to share expertise and provision. The worst just see special schools as a one way revolving door to move their “problems” into whilst doing nothing to support special school pupils who could access aspects of mainstream provision.

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