Inclusion Now 57

The 24 Hour School

We should not create ‘a new normal’ only to fit back into the ‘old normal’.

The Coronavirus Pandemic has resulted in 38 million people from around the world being infected, and to date over 1 million people have died. One significant area of disruption has been to our schooling systems. Professional and academics have made strong representations to the UK Government, detailing the negative ways school children have been impacted: being denied their schooling experiences and associated relationships during the months of lockdown.

Families have recognised that interruptions in schooling have seriously affected the friendship supports, peer group activities, and many other social relationships that result directly from school closures. The negative impact of disruption to the schooling experiences of millions of children has been recognised by all, and the UK Government has announced additional resources to minimise the impact of lockdown. Psychologists are already preparing Government for a potential epidemic amongst school children who will, it is suggested, experience adverse mental health issues resulting from those months of lockdown and disconnection.

It is, however, also recognised by many families around the UK that such dreadful consequences of disconnection and isolation have been a common experience of disabled children for the past five decades. As one Young Disabled person said:

“Our friends are the most important thing in life and being separated from our friends is like being cut off from life”

This pandemic has demonstrated to us all that disconnecting children from ordinary school activities, and the associated relationships, over several months has been traumatic. That experience should lead us to appreciate how the systematic segregation and disconnection from ordinary schooling and relationships of Disabled children, not simply for several months but for the duration of their school lives, is fundamentally damaging and should end.

The Systematic segregation of Disabled children into segregated special school or into segregated ‘units’ in ordinary mainstream schools is not Education, it is an injustice and a denial of a child’s human rights to belong and have the supports required to engage in educational opportunities with their non-disabled peers, and to participate and contribute in their local communities and schooling opportunities in a Post-Covid-19 future.

The potential damage we could witness to millions of non-disabled children from the lockdown has provided us with a collective glimpse into the systematic damage, built into the lived experienced of thousands of Disabled children, segregated from ordinary schooling and the diversity of life enhancing relationships.

This is now the time to plan for all Disabled learners to be fully involved and included in their local communities and schooling opportunities in a Post-Covid-19 future.

We should now listen to and include the thinking of Disabled people and their organisations, who have already experienced and lived their lives in decades of ‘lockdown’. Disabled children do currently have a legal right to Inclusive Education, and we should make such a Right a systematic assumption, for a different reality of equality and inclusion.

The voice of Disabled people who experienced segregation provides us with valuable insights for necessary change:

Quote from ‘T’:

“When excluded from school I felt unimportant. As dirt on the school floor that they sweep outside. It’s so humiliating, you cannot imagine. People like you repair my soul but no one can ever make it whole again. I live on, scattered and afraid to meet more rejections. Having written all this, I know that some people even survive concentration camps, so I go on.”

Quote from ‘B’:

“While we are in the moment of thinking of others more than we have ever done, let us take this notion of how we really see our own power, especially those who wield it aggressively. You could change someone’s world.”

Quote from ‘H’:

“I have sorrow in my heart for you not learning the proper inclusion of me”

Quote from ‘M’:

“I want to say that not being allowed to go to a school with your nearby friends feels like you are outside the society and I had all sorts of ideas of what they were doing when I wasn’t there. I felt really scared that I didn’t know how to be a real person but that’s how it was. I still feel that at times, like there are real people and not real people. I know it’s rubbish but that’s how it felt”

This is the time for the full inclusion of Disabled learners into ordinary schooling with their non-disabled peers all with the customised and appropriate supports they require. Let us consider teaching and learning in different ways, where Disabled and non-disabled learners share, relate, and interact with each other in the same spaces.

We should use the current resources more creatively.

A typical state school in the UK is available to the children who attend it for approximately 30 – 40 hours each week, 180 – 190 days in an ‘academic year’. There are approximately 37,000 schools (Primary, Secondary, Special & Colleges) in the UK. These valuable resources are locked away from the communities in which they are located for about 70% of the actual time they should be available in any one year.

There is an enormous unused capacity that could enable us to think and do teaching and learning in different ways.
We should not feel compelled to fit the ‘new normal’ into the restrictions and limitations of the ‘old normal’ of segregation and isolation of disabled learners, this old practice should now cease.

Learning does not have to take place between the hours of 9am and 4pm, Monday – Friday, between the months of September and July, nor is learning restricted to people between the age of 5 and 25.To have the resources from schools, colleges and universities, within any given community available 24 hours a day, 365 days each year, for Disabled and non-disabled learners to learn together, would unleash a much greater re-thinking power in how we do education, and not simply schooling populations.

This approach could radically change the way we experience teaching and learning. It could significantly change the way people learn, what people learn, why people learn, when people learn, how people learn and the significance of different relationships in the outcomes of learning.

The potential for a society for inclusive lifelong learning.

Let us imagine the number of computers, the abundance and range of e-learning resources, the number of musical instruments and art studios. The well-resourced laboratories for people to engage in scientific research and make real their solutions for a more sustainable climate. The sports facilities where people could take regular exercise as well as acquire new sporting techniques. The communal kitchens to learn about what we eat and doing it healthier and so many more diverse facilities. The millions of books and other rich literature accessible to people of all ages and diverse interests throughout the whole year. The number of well-equipped rooms for “thinking time”, “study time”, “discussion time” and “activity time”, and international Zoom meetings with people from around the globe.

Inclusive learning spaces

Education is too important to be left to teachers and educationists alone. Teachers do play a crucial role in supporting learners to learn and exploit instinctive desires for learning and understanding. Make Lifelong Learning a reality not a piece of schooling rhetoric that fits an existing timetable. Teachers do not have to be the gatekeepers to learning but facilitators of learning. We can do schooling differently; we must do schooling differently.

The aphorism familiar to many educationist: ‘I can’t teach anyone anything. I can only create an environment where people learn.’

There are clearly many organisational, management and administrative issues to be considered but the active engagement of Disabled children and their organisations, who have a huge experience on what we can do to make education happen for us all, will be an essential component – let us make inclusive education happen: We know Inclusion works.

By Joe Whittaker