Why is inclusion so important?

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How inclusive ideals can be further incorporated into the curriculum

Inclusion is a concept regularly used in a school environment, but it is not always fully put into practice. Most teachers recognise that running inclusion activities effectively can be very valuable for disabled and non-disabled youngsters. Disabled children completing tasks alongside their non-disabled equals can instil a sense of worth and can highlight personal skills and abilities that may not otherwise be recognised by all involved.

Many secondary school children will share a class with a disabled child, but that is often where the connection ends. The undoubted pressures on support staff and teachers may mean disabled children are not being given the opportunity to “hang out” with their friends and peers and experience the social side of school life.

In 2000, the DCSF made a National Curriculum Statutory Inclusion Statement which stated that:

Schools have a responsibility to provide a broad and balanced curriculum for all pupils. This statutory inclusion statement sets out three principles for developing an inclusive curriculum which provides all pupils with relevant and challenging learning. Schools must set suitable learning challenges, respond to pupils’ diverse learning needs and overcome potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils.

Many secondary schools are more progressive in their inclusion policy and actively encourage disabled and able-bodied children to work together. These activities can help personal development, improve social skills, build self-confidence, develop teamwork and support independence for both the disabled and non-disabled children.

Not only can inclusion activities help children, but they can also benefit their families. Parents with disabled children can be a valuable source of information and support because they can provide an insight into particular child care issues. Parents may find that their children are more outgoing and communicate better after participating in social activities, and this could enhance their interaction at home as well as in school. Where children encounter greater diversity among their peers, their parents may learn to feel less alone and more aware that most other parents are also experiencing difficult and challenging issues.

Sheila Beddow is a teacher at Kingsdown School in Southend, and she firmly believes in the benefits of student inclusion.

It builds their confidence amazingly – they become more assertive, communication becomes much better, they have a much more positive outlook and more of a “I can do” rather than a “can you help me?” attitude.

For teachers, disability inclusion activities can help increase awareness of their pupils’ abilities. The instinct to step in and support disabled children at every opportunity may get in the way of them interacting with their peers, with and without disabilities. An artificial ceiling of expectations can be created unless disabled and non-disabled children can interact and establish their own relationships.

The Fieldfare Kielder Challenge was established to increase awareness of disability within schools and promote equality and inclusion. It has been a significant milestone in the childhood of many who have gained new awareness of their own and others’ abilities, and formed new and lasting friendships. Equally important is that it has encouraged children to develop a respect for others with diverse characteristics and to bring that understanding back to the classroom.

The Challenge is an inclusive national outdoor adventure competition, which has been running for over 20 years. It involves outdoor problem solving activities that test the skills of a team to work together, communicate, plan and evaluate. Most importantly, the Challenge is fully inclusive and open to all young people.
The activities challenge teams of eight thirteen to sixteen-year-olds, four with and four without disabilities. All team members can play an active role in solving the challenges and the inclusion of all is a key goal for each team. As more and more students with disabilities have been included in mainstream education, the number of schools who can raise a team has increased. But often two or more schools have joined forces to enter.

For an increasing number of schools, the Fieldfare Kielder Challenge it is not a one-off event. The project approach is designed to facilitate inclusion activities within schools for disabled and non-disabled children and to enable them to develop new skills, especially with respect to working in team situations and solving problems. Ian Thompson, a teacher at Penn Hall School, Wolverhampton, which enters the Kielder Challenge every year, commented:

A lot of the things that are covered at the Kielder Challenge fit in nicely with the four strands of the national curriculum. Acquiring and developing skills, evaluating and improving, selecting and applying skills and tactics, and contributing to knowledge and understanding of fitness and health. And it’s great the way the tasks involve the planning, the performing and then the evaluating and improving at the end. We have borrowed these ideas and developed them within our own curriculum at school.

Victoria School and Purbeck Schools in Poole have joined forces to enter teams into the Kielder Challenge for a number of years. Rob Belbin, a teacher at Victoria School explained:

Our children get to meet new people and get integrated. From the mainstream school’s point of view it’s an eye opener the first time they meet, because they’re scared, truly scared. But over the time that they practice for this event you see them gradually getting to know each other, relaxing and becoming great friends.

During a one day heat, where participants undertake five half-hour activities, it is not unusual to see the interaction communication and cohesion within a team improve significantly. At the finals, when they are involved in six bigger and more complex activities over a two day, residential experience, children benefit from even more personal and social development.

These kinds of events can have real impact and change the lives of some of the children involved. Many teachers who have supported teams in the Challenge have seen new ways of using inclusive peer groups as an effective means of working across all sorts of curriculum areas. There is scope for even more activity as Fieldfare develops the event over the coming years. All schools that want to take part will receive support for in-school activities. Local events enabling special schools and mainstream schools to get together co-operatively or competitively can be set up within and between school sports partnerships. Regional heats, based on county sports partnerships, will provide one day competitive events leading to the national finals for twelve teams. The residential experience at Kielder Adventure Centre is effectively the prize at the pinnacle of this national competition.

The number of SEN and disabled children in mainstream schools is on the rise and, if we are to tackle the alienation that many of these children feel today, it is vital to incorporate more inclusive activities into school life. Non-disabled children can also benefit a great deal from the interaction with disabled friends that helps break down the stereotypes that can limit their social perspectives as they learn and grow.

Further information

The Fieldfare Trust, which organises the Fieldfare Kielder Challenge, provides support packs so that teachers can bring disabled and non-disabled children together for fun activities in the school environment. Some schools use this material to prepare and train teams for the regional heats which are the first stage of the national competition. For further information go to
www.fieldfarekielderchallenge.org.uk

Article first published in SEN Magazine issue 42: September/October 2009.

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