Heading for Inclusion
Heading for Inclusion is an organisation of Headteachers and other leaders in education who are dedicated to the principles and practice of Inclusive Education.
Our school system is the key place in our society where people from all backgrounds learn to live together. Inclusion is not just about a few children with learning, physical or behavioural impairments being 'placed' in mainstream schools. It is about creating a society where all people can find their own unique place and work together for the benefit of all. If this work is not started at school - then what hope do we have as a society?
Inclusion is a learning process. The problem is that those of us who lead schools have only experienced a non-inclusive education system. That clouds our thinking and tends to make us work along tried, tested and unsuccessful lines.
HFI aims to offer a peer-to-peer support network.
If you would like to join our activities please contact Nigel Utton, Chair of HFI:
Sometimes, as I lay awake at four in the morning worrying about some petty trivia from school, I forget that there is a world full of people out there who are as committed and dedicated to inclusion as I am.
I recently led two workshops on a Diocesan Governors training day for the Catholic and Protestant schools of Hampshire, Portsmouth, Southampton and the Isle of Wight. It was a day which flagged up both how far we had come and how very far we still have to go. The positive was that the Churches invited me to speak - knowing my 'extreme' views on inclusion. The negative was highlighted when an exasperated Church School Headteacher interrupted my session stating - 'I know how much devastation can be caused when a child with Downs Syndrome is included in a mainstream school'. I was shocked by her comment. My immediate desire to kill her was overcome and, after taking a moment to think, I answered that I know many examples of schools which regularly include children with a wide range of impairments and the whole school benefits from their presence. It was interesting that none of the other participants in the workshop joined in with her attack. (Which would certainly have been the case a few years ago).
I was heartened the following week, when I attended the Alliance for Inclusive Education's AGM, by meeting professionals like myself, people with impairments, parents and allies all working together to chip away at the monolith which is our segregated society. What particularly stuck in my mind after the meeting was the sense of desperation felt by parents of children with impairments. Two mothers spoke to me at length of the personal cost around having to fight simply to have their children included in society. One was so worn out by the years of struggle that she had even contemplated suicide.
Our hopelessness and powerlessness, ingrained since childhood, tricks us into believing that it is useless trying to persuade people like that Headteacher. The reality is that she is a good, intelligent, loving woman who is doing the best she can to support the children in her school. She does not yet have the information necessary to learn how to include all children well.
I want to put down some thoughts about how our struggle towards inclusion can seem a hard and lonely place and how essential it is that we keep in contact with one another - keep reaching for closeness with one another and keep up the fight, which, one day, we shall win!
One thing I notice is the relief parents and young people with impairments show when they hear me speak of Heading for Inclusion. Finally a group of Headteachers and other professionals who include all children with open arms regardless of their needs. Having heard many of the awful stories of the struggles parents have to obtain simple basic human rights for their children, that relief is understandable. We are seen as heroes. We are the saviours who will rescue children with impairments from nightmare situations. These high expectations put a lot of pressure on us. We are doing our best in a difficult climate - but we are human and fallible and produce as many mistakes as we do successes - probably more because, one thing that characterises us, is the fact that we are willing to take risks
In the current situation, inclusion is a difficult path
for professionals to tread. The system is set up within an economic
model where education is seen as the road to employment - the road to
productivity. Government education policy in England is currently split
between two deeply contrasting world views -
There is a contradiction currently in the system whereby Ofsted inspections focus on results in Key Stage tests but also have to inspect an increasing array of 'softer' issues like well-being and pupil satisfaction. It seems that each time an international study shows how poorly the English education system and the happiness of our children compares to other countries, the Government tags another box onto the school's self evaluation form (SEF) and schools have to scrabble around to find new sets of 'evidence' to prove that the children really are 'happier' this year than on average over the last three.
The core thrust of 'accountability' remains the same, however, the important factor remains the short term results in tests. All our children are losing out with the focus on such a narrow understanding of the curriculum and a system of measurement which relies so heavily on the pseudo-scientific statistical analysis of test data. Once a set of data is written down we slavishly believe that it is the 'reality' of the learning situation - that it really does represent an accurate picture - it must do because that is what the graph shows us. Schools are being forced, often against their will, to prepare children for the tests. Education has become a political game with children, teachers and schools being used as the ball! It is too hard to measure whether a child is socialising better, thinking more deeply, questioning the world in a more intelligent way, causing joy to those around her - so instead we measure if she can produce more complex sentences or if she can multiply two digit by three digit numbers.
Headteachers like the one mentioned above often run schools which do very well in 'exams'. Children who will 'bring down the results' are encouraged to attend the school down the road 'which does so well with special needs'. The Government has claimed to address the above by taking special needs into account when calculating a schools 'value added' measures in the SAT tests. When I took out the results of the two boys with statements from my overall results last year we went from 'significantly below' to within normal parameters. Even with sophisticated measurement, children with learning impairments are likely to 'bring down the results' when measured against SAT scores. Headteachers and Governors who do not share an ethos of inclusion are very likely to choose the easy, albeit immoral, route and effectively select the children for their school. The participants at the Diocesan training day were surprised when I told them of the highly regarded Church School Headteacher who puts post-it notes on her wall with the names of children that the pre-schools tell her are not so quick at learning. When it comes to sorting out admissions guess which children are not given places?
The danger in arguing for a fundamental change in our education system is that one can easily be demonised as anti-academic - promoting an inclusive system can be seen as downgrading the importance of what are currently called the 'core subjects' of maths, English and science. This could not be further from the truth. I passionately support the desire for all children to be drenched in their linguistic culture; to develop a love of understanding how our existence is explained in scientific and mathematics terms and to apply that thinking to everyday and universal questions. My question is where does that fit into forcing four year old children to reproduce phonic exercises for a language which is not based in a phonetic structure - where the most common words do not follow the simplest patterns? Our four year olds should be enjoying their existence, exploring the world around them, talking, listening to poetry and wonderful stories, learning songs, questioning, playing and building a picture of what it is to be a human living in a society. In such a community of learning how could a child with Downs syndrome be seen as causing devastation? It is only when we try to force children into rigid boxes that we find they rebel and do not conform.
I believe our biggest task in the foreseeable future is twofold:
1. Firstly we must continue to discuss, grow a picture
of, promote and fight for inclusion in whatever way we have chosen -
through our careers, our parenting our very existence.
All human beings are currently trapped within the confines of a rigid society. Firstly our families, then our schools have shaped us into becoming representative examples of citizens of our particular culture. As parents we train our children to be able to live in the society into which they are born. We stop them from questioning; we bully them out of behaviours which challenge the status quo; we restrict their dreams and render them helpless and powerless. In most English schools we force them to work with children of their own age and we even restrict what clothes they are allowed to wear!
The children with whom I have worked with Downs Syndrome or 'behavioural difficulties' are often people who have retained much of their power as young people. They often feel they have nothing to lose by challenging authority - their treatment can't get much worse and it is worth the consequences! They are willing to fight way beyond the place where the rest of us feel we can take the struggle. This is why the establishment wants to put them away somewhere that they cannot be seen - certainly where they cannot influence other young people to challenge authority.
I believe those of us in the inclusion movement have, for a series of often random factors, managed to grow some of our thinking beyond the restrictions imposed on us as young people. For whatever reason - perhaps we are parents of people with impairments or we have had life experiences which have shown us alternative ways of living - perhaps our political or religious beliefs have led us to counter-cultural conclusions - for whatever reason - we have developed an inclusive view of the universe. We have retained or rediscovered some of our rebelliousness. We have certainly been able to get a glimpse of a world different from the one we currently perceive around us. We were, however, all brought up in rigid societies. Our values, our dreams, our deepest held beliefs all need to be questioned and re-evaluated. We must continually challenge each other's deepest held prejudices so that we can gain an increasingly accurate picture both of the world, as it exists currently and of how it could be improved.
There are billions of victims of the rigid society out
there who have not had their restricted view of human possibilities
challenged and have not reached the same conclusions as us. If we are
to be successful in creating an inclusive world we are going to have
to go after those people. Although killing them does sometimes seem
like a quicker option, I think we are going to have to find a more effective
way than that. My experience working with children with violent behaviour
has taught me that confrontation rarely works in changing a person's
mind. Liking them and listening to them respectfully, on the other hand,
often does! I think we are going to have to nail our feet to the floor
and listen to the fears of our critics - let them voice their deepest
terrors, which were instilled in them in their early childhood.
I do not believe I have won her over to the cause of inclusion - but she must have noticed how happy her child was in the school. One of my Governors asked her whether her child had been happy at the school, whether her academic progress had been good, if she had friends - the answer to all was a resounding 'yes'. But she did not like the way the school was led. She did not make the link that it is the very nature of an inclusive school which leads to children being happy, making friends, learning and living well together.
The inclusive world we are heading towards is a place where each person's needs are thought about; where we are all valued regardless of our achievements and our abilities ; it is a place of constant questioning, challenge and compromise. It won't look slick in the way that our current rigid society can sometimes 'appear'. It will certainly be a bit messier.
In terms of schools, there will be more movement and noise; there will be oases of calm, more play and deep learning. Teachers and children will aim to treat each other with the utmost respect - giving each other space to be their full hopeful, enthusiastic selves. Teachers will follow the interests of the children and encourage them to expand their horizons ever further. Exams, uniforms and age related classes will be an amusing anecdote about the way young people used to be oppressed in the past.
The struggle we have embarked upon is not an easy one. We are challenging the fundamental existence of our current societies. We must work together to make sure we are heading in the same direction. Inclusive schools are, and will increasingly be, wonderful places for our young people to grow up and learn to live together. We must never lose sight of our goal of a fully inclusive world.
Nigel Utton February 2008
Heading for inclusion is an organisation for Headteachers and other educational leaders dedicated to the ideals of a fully inclusive mainstream education system.
Our annual conference will take place in London on Friday 20th June - see the www.allfie.org.uk website for further information.
Tara Flood and I met for the first time in the middle of the school summer holidays. It was an exhilarating and thought provoking day. For me it was an opportunity to deepen my understanding of inclusion from a disabled person's perspective and, as a primary school Headteacher, to clarify my own thoughts around what inclusion means for the education system.
While I was with Tara, we were interviewed by a group of students from Korea carrying out a research project for their Government about inclusive education. It was clear that their view of inclusion was heavily shaped by their own culturally diffenent experiences in school: class sizes of forty; very strict discipline; children being taught exactly the same material at the same chronological age; sitting in rows; total segregation - to the extent that blind children are the only people in Korea to be able to be trained as masseurs - and that is the only profession they can have; being kept at school (until midnight!) if a concept had not been learnt during the day. Coming from that background how could they possibly understand what we mean when we talk about an inclusive classroom.
I came away thinking what assumptions we make as the British inclusion movement about what an inclusive classroom would look like. Particularly how we limit our picture of inclusion by not re-evaluating what we have experienced. I have written before about how none of us has a real conception of what inclusion will be like because our only points of reference are primarily our own segregated education; stories that other people have told us; 'snapshots of possibility' - and our ability to imagine new perspectives.
Through this article I want to start a dialogue with teachers, parents, young people and disabled people to get a clearer image of what further possibilities lie before us.
In particular I want us to discuss and re-evaluate the following common experiences of school in this country. With each statement I want you to get together with another person and ask each other - Why? What is good about this? What is bad about this? How could it be different?
1. School works for 39 weeks a year.
This is by no means meant to be an exhaustive list. I want to leave no stone unturned in our examination of what an inclusive system will be like. I look forward to the dialogue. We shall certainly be discussing the above at our Heading for Inclusion meetings. In order to get a wider perspective it would be great if we could set up an e-mail discussion. Please e-mail me if you would like to be part of a discussion group.