Point of view: Education Officer at nasen

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Seeing the ‘ability’ in disability. Zoe Mather says we should be treating people more fairly.

In education we should be continually looking to challenge the perceptions of disability and celebrating the diversity of our communities. The word disability is enshrined in law and the Equality Act requires schools to make sure the needs of people with disabilities, whether that is pupils, staff, parents, or visitors, are met. People are not in themselves disabled, society disables them by not considering their needs at the forefront of provision. All pupils have ‘ability’ and there are real risks that we see the disability before we see the young person, that we make assumptions about what they will be able to achieve, that we compromise ambitions, that we offer help and support before considering whether that is truly what they need or even before we ask them.

We are still designing buildings with the majority in mind, illustrated by the provision of steps rather than ramps; we design equipment such as science benches at a certain height instead of ensuring all are height adjustable; we have dining rooms too small so they are overcrowded and noisy. At a very visible level we are telling people that they do not belong. The image we present is that we have not thought about you, you are ‘special’ and therefore do not fit. We should be talking to all young people, especially those with lived experience of difference, and seeing their input as key to developing models of change. We should be actively removing archaic barriers and co-creating new spaces and environments to avoid inadvertently introducing new ones. Beyond physical accessibility, providing the support for sensory and curriculum accessibility is also vital for some and useful for all. Providing access to sensory support for all pupils, such as vibrating cushions or noise reducing headphones, helps to develop awareness of what works best for them.

Another area that can often be overlooked is the language used and the way difference is articulated. The language we communicate with, both verbal and physical, is a beacon for the learners in our settings. Understanding the impact of this on everyday interactions supports the relational dynamics. Also, think about the understanding of neurodiversity. Despite the current estimate of 20% of pupils being neurodiverse, for some staff the terms neurodiversity and neurodivergence will be completely new. What can be done to support staff to develop an understanding of the meaning and then the practical support that they can provide in their classrooms? As our study of SENCO workload with Bath Spa University found, less than a third of SENCOs felt they have sufficient time, so where then is the time to support other staff? Building a longitudinal programme of training around SEN and awareness of the wider impact of relational approaches on learners will go some way to building that culture and ethos.

One of the recommendations in the Code of Practice (2015) is that the SENCO should be a member of the senior leadership team. It is a culture and ethos that drives inclusion at every level, and this is entirely the prerogative of the leadership team. Inclusive leadership is about treating people fairly according to their unique characteristics, understanding and appreciating the value of others, and creating the conditions so that the team can perform at their best.

To see what other teachers had to say about diversity and inclusion in education, visit: https://www.pearson.com/uk/educators/schools/issues/diversity-and-inclusion.html

Zoe Mather
Author: Zoe Mather

Zoe Mather
Education Officer at nasen | + posts

Zoe Mather is Education Officer at nasen.

X: @nasen_org
Facebook: @nasen.org

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