Back Up helps thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds rebuild their confidence and independence after a devastating spinal cord injury (SCI). They are also the only charity in the UK with dedicated services for children and young people affected by SCI.
The new campaign, #ThisSchoolIncludes, is calling for training on the principles of inclusion to be delivered to all students teachers in Initial Teacher Training (ITT) by people with disabilities themselves.
The campaign has developed as a result of Back Up’s experience of supporting young people with spinal cord injury in over 50 schools. A team of volunteer school advocates, each of whom has a spinal cord injury, works with individual students and their schools to ensure disabled students are fully included in all aspects of school life.
The nature of the support is tailored to the needs of the people involved; sometimes this involves face to face visits and sometimes it’s simply providing support and advice by telephone, email or through Back Up’s online inclusion toolkit.
Kaitlan, a 15-year-old spinal cord injured student supported by Back Up, said that her teachers were unsure how to respond to her disability. “They would panic,” Kaitlan said. “Back Up visiting my school has made things better and my school knows what to do with me now.”
“Children and young people who are paralysed are often not included in school life because teachers don’t know how to support them” Ella Provan, Back Up’s Schools Inclusion Coordinator, said. “This leads to dependence on others, isolation and depression.”
According to a survey conducted by Back Up, teachers in the UK lack confidence in including disabled students because inclusion training doesn’t meet their needs. However, 91% of teachers believe inclusion training is important.
Ella thinks inclusion is possible with the right training, information and attitude. “Our experience tells us that good practice is happening but not everywhere. That’s why our schools inclusion service exists and that’s why a new training approach for student teachers in ITT is essential,” Ella said.
“We want all teachers to ask, ‘How can we include?’ rather than, ‘Can we include?’ This should start with asking the child or young person how they want to be included, but it is something that is frequently forgotten.”
A recent government review of ITT found considerable variability and gaps in the teaching of special education needs and disabilities. The review, led by Sir Andrew Carter OBE, said that all teachers should have training to support children with disabilities.
“This should not be treated as optional extra but as a priority.” Back Up welcomes the recommendation that an expert body should be commissioned to develop a framework of core content for ITT and looks forward to contributing to this process to improve inclusion.
Back Up is collaborating with the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE) and Disabled Living to design and develop an inclusion training module for student teachers in ITT. The module will establish a shared understanding of disability and offer student teachers a range of strategies for working with disabled students and information on accessing tailored support.
“We are very excited at the prospect of working with Back Up to build on schools capacity to include disabled children,” Dr Artemi Sakellariadis, CSIE director, said.