Since becoming a teacher I have been a passionate supporter of inclusive education. An education system where every child’s needs are thought about so that each can feel equally welcome and have their highest expectations met. Contrary to government propaganda, there has never been a time when inclusive education has been the predominant ethos. There have been, and continue to be, pockets of excellent practice but the system as a whole has never really got its head around thinking about each child as a valued member of the school community.
So, I was not surprised to see the Education Guardian story on Tuesday about a new report that shows 22% of children with disabilities are being illegally excluded from school once a week. These worrying statistics match my own experience, and the experience of many parents who have children with disabilities and special needs. The story proves this is a critical and national issue that needs addressing.
Government obsession with SATs as a measure of a school’s success does not help the situation at all. It is easier to dissuade parents with children who are not likely to give you national expectations in SATs than welcome all children into your school community. The Children’s Commissioner asked me recently what I would say to the secretary of state to improve education. My reply was to reward schools who successfully include high levels of pupils with statements of special needs; for Ofsted to look at the whole area when judging a school and penalise the schools who do not take proportionately as many children with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) as their neighbours and agreeing with her report – to judge schools as ‘inadequate’ if they are excluding disproportionate numbers of children. The evidence (see the Children’s Commissioner’s exclusions inquiry from last year) seems to suggest that many new academies, on that criteria, would be put into special measures.
I don’t want people to be fooled into thinking that special schools are the answer. My view is that all children should be included in their local inclusive school making the need for special schools redundant. Plus, the DfE’s own statistics show that in 2009/2010 there were 14,910 fixed period exclusions from special schools which are also becoming increasingly selective in their admissions criteria.
The advert for the job I applied for asked for an ‘inclusive headteacher’. The governors, staff, parents and pupils have inclusion flowing through their veins. Our five children with hearing impairments have their own BSL interpreter who is teaching all of the children in the school sign language (sign language and not sign supported English). Our children with severe autism and Down’s Syndrome can be a handful and require significant adult support. We have a nurture group where they spend some of their time in a smaller, quiet atmosphere with a high level of adult intervention. All my staff are having in-depth training in safety first so that they can safely hold the children if the situation requires it.
But the key thing is an inclusive ethos from the top of the school. Teachers can be pro-inclusion, but they need support from school leaders and governors.
My school is a microcosm of society. We are soon to become a co-operative academy signing up to the values of the co-operative movement worldwide. Central to this philosophy is that every human being is valuable and deserves a place in our society. My long term goal is for every school to include every child from it’s local community. I want teachers and headteachers to include every child who comes through the door adapting the building, curriculum and ethos to be big enough to handle whatever the child needs. In 2010 I gave a talk at the NUT conference. I asked the audience to put up their hands if they had successfully included a child with a list of every impairment that I could think of – many people put up their hands each time. The expertise is out there we only have to seek out the pockets of excellent practice and adapt our schools so that we all become experts in inclusion – and create a better world for us all.
By Nigel Utton for The Guardian
Nigel Utton is headteacher of Bromstone Primary School and chair of Heading for Inclusion. School leaders can access Heading for Inclusion as a group on the National College of School Leadership portal.