Inclusion Now 46

What Makes a Good School?

As we see our world becoming more divided and people segregated, the need for tolerant, diverse and inclusive schools is greater than ever. Yet you may, like me, be wondering if there are any truly inclusive schools out there – willing and able to provide a meaningful education for all? – Lucy Bartley

As a parent of three children, one of whom is disabled, as a school governor and as an education advocate, I wear a number of hats giving me more than my fair share of school experiences – both good and not so good… I have gleaned a few things along the way which I hope might be useful to you whether you are a parent, an ally, or a practitioner which I am going to explore here;

What is a good school?

I have often been asked the question in relation to my children’s school: ‘Is it a good school?’ My response has always been ‘It depends on what you think is a good school.’ “If ‘good’ means the top academic results then it isn’t, but if by ‘good’ you are looking for a school that will try its best to educate well and meet the needs of a diverse group of children – then it is a good school.”

I believe a good school is an inclusive school – one that welcomes all children, values each and every one of them as individuals and also enables them to be part of a supportive community.

Some hallmarks of a good school are: a diverse intake, tolerant values, robust equality policies and evidence they work hard never to exclude any child. It is a school that wants to work with you as a parent or practitioner and values your partnership. A school that makes sure students have a meaningful voice in the school. Most of all it is a school where my children and all children can be happy and achieve in the way they want.

Looking at these hallmarks – a ‘good’ school’ is a far cry from the Ofsted outstanding benchmark! However holding this view of ‘good’ as a governor in this education climate is hard.

Schools are increasingly forced to conform to tougher and tougher attainment measures which, by their very nature, are exclusive. I see it every day – where the children that are unable to conform are at risk of exclusion. I often feel there is little I can do. I am the one parent governor at the school and am part of a dying breed as academies are not required to have any parent governors at all!

I am a minority in a governing body which does not govern in any meaningful way – we really rubber stamp what the head teacher has already decided! You may well ask why I am continuing to be a governor? Well, it does give me insights into the challenges schools face. It also allows me to understand what my children’s school are doing and where they are going and It helps me to build relationships with key people at the school – and relationships are very important.

So what can you positively do as a parent in this climate?

My first piece of advice for parents of children who are perceived as different or difficult – terms which I reject, would be to intentionally and proactively build relationships with staff at your child’s school. I would also advise that you become an ally to your child and realise that you know them best; you are the expert in them! Remember too that the school needs to work with you in a child-centred way – the law requires it and you can remind the school of your expertise, offer your support and of course promote your child. Indeed schools generally want to work with parents, Ofsted requires them to and where schools involve parents well the children do better and are happier.

Also be very clear that as a parent of a child that has been labelled, you have been oppressed and isolated – by the prejudice which says your child is the problem. My advice would be to reject this assumption and remember it is the barriers that prevent your child from being included that are the problems – it maybe the environment, or it may be attitudes but it is never your child that is the problem.

To conclude:

  • Become that ally to your child – identify and celebrate their amazing gifts and strengths and ensure that the school does too.
  • Try and understand your child’s rights under the law, educate yourself about the school, the education climate and the legislation.
  • Always communicate with the school in a positive way and introduce your child focussing on their gifts and strengths.
  • Try and choose a school that has inclusive values, is diverse and appears less obsessed with league tables and results.
  • Join the parents’ group, go along to events, meetings, anything you can attend at the school.
  • Build connections with the school, create positive relationships, adopt a conciliatory approach and remember the climate that schools are operating in. It is all too easy to be angry and to fight – after all for most parents it has been a constant battle on behalf of their child– but fighting ultimately does not achieve much.

Finally – remember and remind the school that you are on the same side – wanting the very best for our children, for all children.

Lucy Bartley