Ensuring inclusive practice in all schools
At our primary school, we try to be as inclusive as possible. As Assistant SENCO, I am involved in planning activities and interventions with the class teacher and teaching assistant. I seek to differentiate, where necessary, and make the work appropriate and motivating to enable each child to move forward with their learning.
In real terms this might mean that a girl with Downs syndrome will do a mini-topic based around Elmer the elephant, rather than studying rainforests with her peers. A little girl will teach the whole class sign language to boost her self-esteem. A boy on the autistic spectrum will need to reinforce “tens” and “units” using practical equipment, rather than attempting long division. A girl with ADHD might need ten-minute movement breaks to keep her attentive and a child with dyslexia will use a hand-held electronic device to “read” text and a laptop with specialist software. A little girl who finds it difficult to concentrate will make use of a quiet, uncluttered area and a boy with sensory issues might need a weighted blanket on his lap and study most effectively when work is presented to him in small chunks.
Making it work
It is possible for the vast majority of children to integrate successfully into mainstream primary education. Yes, some tweaks and creative thinking will be necessary, but inclusion is achievable and can work. However, there are two problems.
First, there needs to be an expert in the school who can push for this type of inclusion. Too often, our special children are given work that is just not suitable for them and, of course, they struggle. Teachers are under pressure to meet targets and think if they keep teaching the same thing in the same way, eventually the penny will drop. This is not true and makes me furious. Some children need work that is vastly different from the rest of the class, is presented in a different way and makes use of specialist equipment.
Even if there is an expert in inclusion on the staff, how on earth can a teacher adapt the curriculum or teach in a creative way if they don’t have the support of management? Too often, I hear of headteachers, and even SENCOs, who don’t have the first idea how to really include our children with SEN.
Real inclusion is a skill. It is not just about printing off an easier sheet for them to work from and hoping that this will be OK. It’s not OK.
This is what bad or ineffective practice looks like: a child isolated outside in the corridor working on a completely separate curriculum; a child with poor self-esteem and low emotional resilience being constantly told off and reprimanded; a child who is not given any opportunities to show their interests and to shine.
Second, for some children, mainstream is just not suitable, as their difficulties cannot successfully be addressed in a mainstream environment.
Schools are large, noisy places. The curriculum is fast-paced and the pressure on staff to keep moving learning along is relentless. For some children, this is overwhelming. What they need is an atmosphere of calm – an environment where there is routine, where a fascination with cheerleading can be incorporated into every day learning. They need a multi-sensory approach to enhance their learning, where the outdoors can be used consistently to motivate, ignite and challenge.
As mums and dads, we should demand that our children’s schools have a well thought out approach to inclusion. And of course, if mainstream doesn’t feel like the right place for your child, it probably isn’t.
Soli Lazarus is a teacher, assistant SENCO and SEN consultant: