For all the bleeding heart liberals here is what you want to see and imagine happening in an inclusive school environment with children laughing, holding hands and playing only those games that are ‘inclusive’ so that no one ever feels left out ever.
This isn’t an accurate picture of inclusion because the ginger child is not grinning happily while being punched in the face by the child with ‘anger’ issues and there is no adult walking on eggshells nearby. Oh yes, that is also part of the ideal. However, the problem of bad behaviour and martyrs involved in education will have to wait for another blog.
The Michaela debate was fantastic but the predictable wave of accusations has hit them. Did you know they burn children at the stake for having a crease on their shirt? I hear that they are physically throwing parents and children from the top floor window for so much as asking a question to clarify the behaviour rules!
It did highlight the ongoing assumption that SEND and poor behaviour are linked and therefore to expect high standards of conduct include the exclusion of those children to make a whole school behaviour system work. Now there is a good reason for this – namely the fact that before all children with EBD issues were on the SEN register. Thankfully, we have the EHC now which separates them from SEND per se and this can only be a good thing. Some children will have both. But it is simply that true that they are one and the same.
In a decade of teaching, the two have hardly ever overlapped. That does not mean they don’t. Just that it is possible to work in inner-city schools with higher than national average percentage of what was SEN and Statemented children, in some of the most deprived areas in this country and rarely have poor behaviour overlap with SEN. It will be incredibly interesting to find out once the system is more embedded how much overlap there is because as far as I am concerned too much has been assumed in the past.
What we need right now is not more idealism but problem-solvers. Yes you with the ideals, look at the picture above and feel happy but don’t tell me what is and is not feasible in a classroom setting. What I needed as a teacher was a real person who was knowledgeable, had some common sense, cared for getting the best outcome for all concerned and strived to do just that.
I had the absolute pleasure of Jacinta Barnard, who was in charge of the Leicestershire Behaviour Support Team a few months ago. It was also a bit heartbreaking. I listened to what she had to say about how she operated and had set up the Behaviour Support Teams in Leicester before it was split between city and county (she went to the Shire). Unfortunately, all I could tell her was how her model had disintegrated to the point where certainly I had no respect for anyone in the BST.
She described a service in which she went into schools and worked with teachers. She kept an open mind about all outcomes – inclusion at any cost is not to the benefit of any child (funny how a one size fits all system is ok for all these unique children when it suits). She was someone who would have been able to work in the kind of schools I worked in and command respect because she wasn’t trying to blame, she was trying to figure out what was best. If that meant the teacher had to change or use a strategy, then so be it, if it meant Alternative Provision or a place in a Special School, so be it. Not that these are the only solutions but she wanted to find the best one. She wasn’t trying to shoehorn children into a mainstream class come whatever may because it is not best for all children. Jacinta was able to do this because she went into classrooms modelled her strategies, did team teaching, supported as part of the class, etc. because she was well aware that just sitting there observing was not enough. It is different when you are up there and it is your responsibility to make that class learn. It is also important to note that there isn’t just one SEND child per class in the kind of schools I worked in but several, certainly in my case. Therefore, to find classroom strategies that work for the child in that class, one has to understand the environment.
We are teachers trying to teach a class, not social engineers creating a facade that makes people with little or no grasp on reality feel happy. Even worse was one SENCo, who did think that her hour-long sessions painting with children gave her a unique insight into how those children learnt in class. It’s one thing to do so to build relationships; it’s another to delude oneself that it’s the same as teaching a child maths in a class of 30 children. But this is how petty fiefdoms are carved and I am pointing the finger at the ‘advocates’ here because while they maybe needed in some parts of the system, they are no longer required in others. The conversation has moved on but they are still saying the same things.
Yes, that’s right, those people who are so ideologically attached to inclusion that they ignore the reality of it are doing it to make themselves feel better not for the children I was teaching in my classes. There are some who may wish to be more charitable but I’d rather as a society we ended our cult of youth and people grow up so we don’t keep engaging in infantile conversations. Part of the problem is that some seem to think they are still fighting the same battles, and maybe in some places they are, where school’s are reluctant to take any child who has a condition. But I would also wonder if this is not a backlash against some of the idealistic notions that we can include all children in every classroom all the time. As though we live in some parallel universe where the needs of SEN do not compete at times, where there are no limits on the hours of the day and the non-SEN children don’t have any needs to be addressed in class so teachers can simply focus on those children with SEN.
I can’t say what the national picture is but what I can say is that we need to listen to what teachers are saying not what you think you are hearing. Because when I say that inclusion is not for everyone I am not saying that we should not include or that we should separate all SEN children from mainstream or that I am not willing to accommodate the needs of children.
As for the actual children in my class, well the vast majority were no different to other children and they were certainly no more likely to behave badly. Very few of the rest were due to the special need they had. I always remarked to myself that when it came to children with hearing impairments, I either had angels or demons. There was absolutely no correlation between the ability to hear and behaviour, though. The child with the worst hearing problem (one ear was malformed and a cochlear implant failed) was also one of my best-behaved children. Like all children, parents, home life, expectations, resilience, and so forth have an impact on them. And low expectations in class will too and since when has that been a goal of inclusion?
Some self-appointed SEN advocates have been misquoting the Children and Families Act – here is what it says:
Children with SEN in maintained nurseries and mainstream schools
(1) This section applies where a child with special educational needs is being educated in a maintained nursery school or a mainstream school.
(2) Those concerned with making special educational provision for the child must secure that the child engages in the activities of the school together with children who do not have special educational needs, subject to subsection (3).
(3) Subsection (2) applies only so far as is reasonably practicable and is compatible with—
(a) the child receiving the special educational provision called for by his or her special educational needs,
(b) the provision of efficient education for the children with whom he or she will be educated, and
(c) the efficient use of resources.
There are other sections too please read here.
Nowhere does it say that SEN children have to be educated in a mainstream school which must go to the ends of the earth to keep left-wing Guardian readers on Twitter happy.
Furthermore, I am glad that it is clear that SEN and poor behaviour are not synonymous. Lowering one’s expectations automatically is not accommodating a child’s needs it’s just lowering expectations. I find the speed at which some go straight to “but you can’t expect x or y” disturbing. Is the child incapable of meeting an expectation in some way? Is that the case now or forever? What is the point of including SEN children in class if they are to be treated as second class human beings morally and socially?
I’ve accommodated children’s needs in all sorts of ways including; separate workstations, wearing a microphone connected to speakers or linked to hearing aids, seating visually impaired children where they can see better, mirroring an IWB onto a computer screen for a child who was losing their sight and marking her work separately online. How do any of these things affect the class behaviour rules? Do changes need to be made to the school policy?
J, who was autistic and developmentally delayed (he was operating at the level of a 3-year-old in year 2) was a prime candidate for “his behaviour must be accepted by everyone” crowd. He had few communication skills, could not speak in sentences or express how he was feeling, did not wish to engage with the other children most of the time (they were fully accepting of him) because he was in his own world. He would need to make noises and jump about when it got too much for him. Luckily his 1:1 TAs had worked with him since Nursery. They had, ignoring advice, taught him to understand the word no and also to indicate when it was too much so they could take him to another place where he could just sit and make random noises for 15 minutes if needs be. For some this is exclusion – so be it – but I don’t see why the class needed to see him do this day in day out for years on end and why he needed to be made to stay in class when it was distressing him. Who would benefit from that?
We had to fight with the SENCo to get him into a special school because she would not train teachers or send them on courses, gave limited guidance to the TAs and was trying to convince the mum not to speak to me because she knew what my advice would be. He needed, even if temporarily, specialist provision to help him move forward, which was not going to happen if he stayed in the school. It was also a means of getting the parent some expert advice and removing the vice-like grip that the SENCo had on this child’s future because it was evident that she loved telling everyone all the types of SEN we were including but less time helping teachers to meet their needs.
I didn’t want him to leave but loving a child doesn’t mean trying to be all things to them, it’s recognising when they need somebody else too. It also means finding the best solutions for children with SEN in the here and now and this needs more than emotive statements and soundbites. We need to be free to take stock and actually discuss what works and what doesn’t. We can not include all children in every classroom – we know this. We need solutions that work in a classroom and not just 1:1 or in the mind of a specialist. We may also need to accept that instead of spreading resources and provision thinly, if it is not better to have more specialist units. We can include children in mainstream schools but not all children in the same class all the time. The best way to move forward might be to have more specialised units, which would restrict parental choice, but would enable us to find out what works. We can not merely throw children with a range of SEN into a class and ask a teacher to make the impossible work – that helps no-one.
Last but not least would all do well to remember that a just outcome is one that is both fair and reasonable.