I’ve been teaching for quite some time now. I’d like to describe what inclusion has meant in some of the schools I have worked in.
Before I do that I should start by saying what I believe inclusion means.
In my opinion inclusion means pupils attend whichever school it is in the best interests of the child to attend provided that school has the capacity, skills and trained staff necessary to deal with their needs appropriately. When I say appropriately I mean that the resources and staff time necessary to teach the pupil, cater to their needs and give them meaningful access to the curriculum are not so great that the presence of the special needs child will have a disproportionately damaging impact on the education of the other pupils in the school.
A pupil that cannot be given meaningful access to the curriculum in a mainstream classroom is not being “included” in my opinion. A pupil whose needs are so great that their presence in a mainstream classroom significantly hinders the progress of the rest of the class may be being included but the price of that inclusion is too high in my opinion.
I have ranted at length about this school in several of my previous blogs so those of you that regularly read my blog will be aware of the climate within the school.
When I arrived at the school I believed in inclusion. It was one of the reasons I went to work in the school. The headteacher was almost in the grip of religious fervour where inclusion was concerned. The school was supposed to be at the cutting edge of inclusion. In some ways it was.
You see the school almost never said no to a child. They also avoided permanently excluding pupils at almost all costs. This meant they had to come up with creative ways of keeping some of the pupils they were “including”. Sometimes this was brilliant for the pupils education and socialisation. Sometimes not.
When I arrived at the school they had a separate unit for the worst behaved pupils. These pupils spent some or all of their lesson time removed from the rest of the school. The pupils had an exit card that many of them overused. They did this because it was often bedlam in there. It was certainly more fun than lessons. The unit was closed down when the Headteacher visited, none of the pupils there recognised her, told her at some length and in graphic detail what she could do with her instructions and walked out. From that point on we had the joy of their company in our lessons all the time.
It was at about this time that pupils that refused to behave were labelled as special needs (regardless of whether or not their poor behaviour was because of a special need). My opinion that a lot of these pupils would cease to behave poorly if some sort of sanction were employed did not go down well. Nor did my assertion that being a tosser is not a special need.
It was also at this time that “special needs” started to be used to excuse pupils poor behaviour (or more to the point to excuse SLT from doing anything about their poor behaviour). If a pupil with “behaviour problems” was getting too many detentions or a referrals from their tutor or a teacher then initially the teacher would be told that they needed to engage the pupil, they needed to understand the pupil, they needed to plan their lessons better so these confrontations would be avoided, they needed to cater to the pupils learning style or something else that strongly implied the fault was with them. If the teacher continued to challenge their behaviour using the behaviour policy they would removed from that group and put in the group of a teacher that did not give detentions or referrals. Thus in the eyes of SLT the problem of that child’s behaviour was solved.
This led to a significant worsening of the behaviour in the school across the board.
It was not apparent that expectations of pupil progress were high for special needs pupils in the school but then there did not appear to be much in the way of scrutiny of results at all. We certainly had very few conversations about results in our department and I felt very little pressure with respect to results. This was despite the school have some of the worst results in the LA. The results achieved by SEN pupils were definitely inflated by them getting too much help with coursework and in the exams.
After a while the school started up a unit for pupils with one particular condition and were considered specialists in including pupils with that particular special need. In actual fact those students were educated separately the overwhelming majority of the time. When they did mix with the student body at break times and lunch times they were often bullied and because nobody really wanted to challenge that they were eventually kept separate at break times too.
Shortly before I left a separate unit was started for the worst behaved pupils….
The stories of 3 pupils typify this schools approach to inclusion:
This young man arrived in the school with a statement for Speech, Language and Communication Difficulties. He had no significant behaviour problems. He occasionally got very frustrated with his inability to express himself and sometimes this bubbled over into anger. However being in a school where the behaviour was appalling resulted in him swiftly developing seriously poor behaviour. His special needs were poorly communicated to his parents who ended up thinking that they were the explanation for his poor behaviour and thus that his poor behaviour was something beyond his and their control. I got the distinct impression they were delighted that the poor behaviour had an explanation that did not lead back to them.
The school did not sanction this student in any meaningful way. They constantly made excuses for him and “protected” him from being sanctioned by those of us who saw that he desperately needed boundaries. His behaviour deteriorated to the point where he was virtually unteachable. At this point he was using his exit card whenever he got told off. Most teachers would ignore his disruptive behaviour until it got to the point where they could not teach their class with him in it. As soon as his behaviour was challenged he would walk out. He rarely did a detention unless he upset a member of SLT or one of their mates.
I had the joy of invigilating his Year 9 SATs exam. When I asked him to stop talking he threatened to beat me up. When I sent him out of the exam a member of SLT sent him back in again. This emboldened him to the point where he was singing at the top of his voice. I sent him out again and he was sent back in again. He then proceeded to swear at and threaten me for about 5 minutes. I asked the member of SLT who kept putting him back in to deal with the situation. They refused and suddenly found themselves very busy with important things to do elsewhere. That was fine by me as it allowed me to send him out without him getting put back in again. However 10 minutes later he was returned to the exam hall again. At this point I walked out.
Things continued in the same vein until the young man was banged up for very violently assaulting another pupil.
Several older family members had already blazed a trail of destruction through the school when this young man arrived. They had MLD and SPLD for the most part and were quite unpleasant individuals so the school decided that they should get no support for their MLD because obviously the best way to deal with pupils with learning difficulties is to label them BESD and then do nothing about their poor behaviour until they genuinely have serious behaviour problems due to the lack of boundaries at home and at school. It was eventually deemed best for staff not to contact their mother as she supported her children to the hilt was aggressive at times in doing so.
This student arrived in the school with no special needs at all. He was quite bright and pleasant in Year 7. He was inappropriate at times due to a lack of boundaries at home and poor examples of how to behave from his older siblings. His older siblings bullied him because he wasn’t getting into trouble enough, wasn’t mouthing off at teachers or being rude as was a “boffin”. That wasn’t the only way in which his family members didn’t help him. You see most of his teachers were expecting him to cause problems the moment he arrived because of his family so they were all over any poor behaviour he exhibited. He could see kids much worse than him getting away with a lot more unchallenged and kids getting praise for work that wasn’t as good as his. He gave up about halfway through year 7 and quickly became very unpleasant to teach (much to the delight of his siblings).
About halfway through year 8 his poor behaviour came to the attention of the SENCO with catastrophic results. He was labelled BESD and taken under the wing of the SENCO who decided that shielding him from meaningful sanctions was the most appropriate way to deal with his poor behaviour. At this point many of his teachers gave up on trying to teach or sanction him as they were undermined by the SENCO and SLT at every turn. The only time he got into trouble for his behaviour after this point was if he annoyed a member of SLT or one of their mates.
When he was in Year 9 he spent most of his time roaming the corridors looking for his mates or siblings. He would then shout abuse at their teachers and/or conduct conversations with them during the lessons until someone picked him up and took him away. He would then be brought to the members of staff at some point during the day to give a grudging apology and that was often the extent of the sanction.
There was one tiny mote of sanity in how the school dealt with this young man’s behaviour. His form tutor. A legend. She kept him behind every time he misbehaved (on those occasions he attended afternoon registration) and made him write letters of apology or kept him until the teacher was able to come to his form room and speak to him about his behaviour. He and his mum complained to the Headteacher about this treatment and shortly afterwards he was moved out of the tutor group and registered with the SENCO from that point on. This precipitated another nose dive in his behaviour.
The staff were divided about him because if you were mates with SLT members then he was a reasonably good student. They would say “He always behaves in my lessons” as if they had found some wonderful behaviour management secret. If you weren’t mates with SLT members then he was a horrendous nightmare.
Pupil 3 I have already written about in a previous blog:
It is student 4 at the end of the following blog. We are talking about a very troubled young man who had been traumatised by his life experiences. I believe anyone that had lived the life he lived would have been seriously screwed up and he really needed specialist intervention from mental health professionals in my opinion. He certainly did not need a complete absence of meaningful boundaries.
This school failed every pupil in it by allowing feral pupils the run of the place largely unchallenged in the name of inclusion.
They also managed to turn pupils with no special needs and pupils whose special needs were not related to behaviour into pupils whose behaviour was worse than anything I saw working in PRU in the name of inclusion.
I’m not saying the SEN pupils that attended this school should have been in special schools. Many of them should have been in a good mainstream school. Many would have thrived in an environment that was less insane.
Special needs pupils achieved very well in this school. If the needs were not too extreme and not relating to behaviour then the school did very well by special needs pupils in my opinion. The schools approach was to integrate them as far as possible into lessons with the minimum of support necessary to make it work but to wrap a protective arm around them during unstructured time to make sure they felt safe and secure.
There were a lot of specialists coming to support the pupils, the school and to train staff. Some of these came from the LA and some were brought in by the school. Most of them were good.
The SENCO was a top bloke. Swamped, under-appreciated and doing his absolute best (which was pretty good in my opinion).
One of the problems in this school were that the pupils got far too much help from TAs in assessments, end of year exams and mock exams so it was sometimes difficult to get a realistic idea of how pupils performed under pressure or in exams. There were also several cases where SEN pupils I taught performed far better in their GCSE Maths exam than I would have thought possible based on their classwork, homework and in class tests. This suggests that pupils may, on occasion, have got too much help in their exams. Controlled assessments were somewhere between (depending on the subject) an absolute joke in which the cheating was outrageous or done something approaching properly but I saw no evidence of SEN pupils being treated any differently in that regard than any other student.
The second problem was including pupils with more severe needs and/or how the school dealt with serious incidents. There were pupils that we didn’t have the skills or resources to include that remained in the school for 5 years. A lot of their time was spent in one to one sessions with a TA or sitting in a lesson but doing completely different work one to one with their TA because they could not access the work. On top of that some of them exhibited completely inappropriate behaviour. If any other child in the school had sexually assaulted female members of staff and female pupils they would have been shown the door. If any other student had assaulted members of staff they would have been out. Apparently being “special needs” confers some sort of permanent exclusion immunity on pupils. The parents in these cases did not want their children to go to special school. The LA said they would not support a permanent exclusion because they did not have any places in other schools that could cater to these pupils needs and the school feared that a permanent exclusion would be overturned on appeal so the pupils remained.
I had no major issues with how this school does inclusion beyond the generic nature of the strategies for dealing with the needs of some of the pupils.
Teachers were made aware of the needs of pupils and some strategies that might be employed. Those pupils that are entitled to support in lessons got a TA. Pupils that had weak literacy and/or numeracy were withdrawn from lessons to do work in small groups. The majority of special needs pupils were taught in small groups. The pupils did not appear to get too much help in end of year or mock exams and certainly did not in the real exam as far as I was aware. Their results would have been better if they did.
The school dealt with pupil behaviour well and that includes the behaviour of pupils with BESD. This did vary slightly depending on who the Head of Year wass.
The SEN department knew the pupils that they worked with very well and were generally able to offer helpful advice and strategies if you went to talk to them directly rather than reading the IEPs.
There wass a significant gap between the performance of SEN pupils and the rest of the student body that the school was concerned about.
I would say the school did inclusion pretty well. Sadly these things are likely to be judged on the basis of results in which case arguably this school did inclusion worse than the other 2.
The point that I am slowly and inexorably drawing near to making is that I have no problem with inclusion if we are talking about my vision of what inclusion means. I have serious problems with what the leadership team in school 1 thought inclusion meant and some issues with what the leadership team in school 2 thought inclusion meant.
A school being “inclusive” could mean anything at all and it is a fairly meaningless description unless we know exactly what inclusion means to them.