Inclusive Solutions: “Don’t defend inclusion, make them defend segregation”
Maresa Mackeith interviews Derek Wilson and Colin Newton from Inclusive Solutions
As partners of Inclusion Now magazine for many years, we wanted to know more about their inclusive practice work. So, in April this year, Maresa interviewed Colin and Derek on behalf of the editorial board – here’s what she found out.
- Maresa: We wondered if you could tell us about the history of Inclusive Solutions.
Colin: Inclusive Solutions goes back about 20 years, maybe 21 years this year. We were exposed to the Inclusion Movement through Marsha Forrest and Jack Pearpoint and also, in this country, through Richard Rieser. As educational psychologists we didn’t want to give up our day jobs, and Marsha Forrest just died and that was our trigger. We were doing a lot of work on inclusion and the approach of Circle of Friends. We made a lot of progress with that and person-centred planning.
Derek: We were getting more and more requests to come and do training with other people across the country. We didn’t leave local authority jobs because we were unhappy or frustrated. In many ways we had a lot of freedom to do what we thought was important as part of developing inclusion in Nottingham city. But the picture felt like a bigger one, I guess, looking back and we made the decision to strike out as freelance trainers and support Inclusion Now when we could. We were doing that at a time, nationally, when there was a reasonable amount of money for training during the late 1990s and early 2000s, so we were well placed in terms of requests to come and do training on inclusion.
Colin: We were travelling the UK, parts of Eastern Europe and even trips to Canada and North America. We travelled a lot with the inclusion message. We really developed the Circle of Inclusion approach, really strengthening the idea of the Circle of Adults as a problem-solving process. We really embedded that with training and writing.
Derek: It’s probably important to say something about our training methodology in this context because we always trained together. We almost always used a large scale graphic visual representation of what topics we were training on and, in line with the inclusion message, we were keen to try and get the ideas across in as many ways as we could, so we were never people that lectured with a series of bullet points. I guess with hindsight I’d often say that good teaching is good teaching and using a range of methods.
Colin: So, we were very interactive in our training work. We’ve done individual work around training with families and young people, always with the mission of all children being included in mainstream schools with the right support, the right provision, and the right flexibilities. So, the ideas and strategies that we used, like, for example, restorative justice, were always in the interest of maximising every child’s right to inclusion. We really tried to get our training up to a gold standard so people would remember us and remember those ideas and take that feeling away, that spirit away to want to include all children.
- Maresa: What differences have Inclusive Solutions made?
Colin: One thing I would say is the educational psychology world has fully embraced a number of the approaches we promoted, particularly person-centred planning; the use of parts and maps. They are really highly valued by psychology services up and down the UK around working with children and families. To this day they are still hankering to learn more about them, so that’s been really important. I would say the Circle of Friends approach was embedded and put in the pills Toolkits, as was the Circle of Adults process which was the in depth problem-solving. It was quite something really. It was embedded in psychology approaches but then it filtered down into schools as well in terms of practice that gets close to young people. That’s definitely one change we brought.
Derek: Again, with hindsight, inclusion has become one of those words that nobody says they’re not. It’s almost an insult to be told you’re not very inclusive. That wasn’t the case 20 plus years ago. So that word has found itself into the mainstream of what people expect settings to be and the individuals to be. But that’s not the same thing as saying it’s properly understood. Nowadays I would introduce, especially our Keys to Inclusion session, with words along the lines of: “We want to be able to think together a bit more deeply about what that word means, because we all think it’s a good thing but what are we talking about and not talking about.” So, thinking about what difference we’ve made, we couldn’t take full credit for mainstreaming the word inclusion, that’s come from a whole range of sources, but right now it’s an accepted good thing.
What that means in practice is a different issue. That’s always been the struggle for us. The actual mindset of what underpins inclusive practice is quite tricky and takes a bit of unlearning about what we were all taught as ways of understanding people with differences. I suppose I’m getting at the medical model here; we do things like ask what’s ‘wrong’ with somebody as a first question, and to try and move beyond that and ask more inclusive questions is a big ask.
- Maresa: How did the Young people respond to your training programmes?
Colin: Sometimes when we’re doing person-centred planning, with the path and the map approach, the big visual approaches to planning, we encourage people to bring some Young people along from the schools and want a diverse range of Young people to be present. Sometimes we plan with Young people directly as well. They like the interactiveness of it and that they get a chance to speak, however they communicate, and obviously we value that. Having said that, we did once run our Keys to Inclusion training with 5 and 6-year-olds and that was interesting. We always wondered would the work we do with adults be transferable to very young children, because it’s very simple communication, and they loved it.
Derek: Equally, when we do work directly with Young people in terms of Circles of Friends, people are very quick to see that the issues of exclusion and social justice are ultimately relevant to everybody. Not just the person that happens to be the focus of the circle at that time. Young people are always very quick to see what the point of this is, why somebody is on the margins and what they can do to make that less likely. Maybe they haven’t named it in that way as an inclusion or social justice issue, but in their experience it’s crucial. So, tapping into that, what troubles or what pleases Young people, is also important and very relevant.
- Maresa: Can you tell us more about Circles of Support?
Derek: One of the most obvious things is that if you’re in a mainstream setting then the key resources you need, for a circle of friends or circle of support, are already all around you – the peer group. In essence what we’re doing here is involving the peer group in building inclusion. Based on the idea that you go to school to be with other young people, not to be with adults, and if we can find a method that helps us recruit Young people in support of building inclusion then we’re being a possible support.
Colin: We’ve probably set up hundreds of circles all around the UK, occasionally internationally, with many young people. Just always really impressed by how the Young people step forward and volunteer. Even around the most challenging of their number who’s been causing them harm or upset for whatever reason, still there was always a team that would volunteer and wrap themselves around that Young person and problem solve with them. Meet with them weekly and make a change to their lives. And that they haven’t heard of the idea that the adults can step back and let Young people come forward and work their magic. It’s powerful, still very powerful. And interestingly we wrote that book a long time ago now but still copies every week get sold. Probably the best seller of all our books which says something as well, doesn’t it?
- Maresa: What are you both most proud of?
Derek: I think the training methodology. We’ve worked over years to make the training a success in a way. I say now without boasting that we make it look easy. That kind of training or facilitating person-centred planning or whatever, but of course it’s not easy. For us, years of thinking and talk and trying things out have gone into it to get what you would see today. That doesn’t happen overnight. Looking back, I think to have become the effective, successful trainers we are, would be one of the things I’m most pleased about.
Colin: I would agree with that. And I kind of think of maximising the idea of drawing, not so much on the psychology but the arts really. There was music and drama. There was pictorial, graphic art and communication. And then bringing it all together. An interesting mulch that seems to work for people. I’m proud of that too. It’s not where we started but certainly where we’ve got to over the years. Also, I’m really proud that all that person-centred planning, work of path and maps and adult problem-solving processes, that we ourselves created, really has been embedded in the profession methodology. That means a whole bunch of people in the special needs world, especially across the UK, have also been exposed to these processes, have valued them and used them positively and in inclusive ways. That was no mean achievement really.
And the Circle of Friends stuff, I said we could go to our graves happily knowing that some of those circles have made such a difference to those peoples’ lives. Really kept them present in the mainstream world that maybe without them that would never have happened, and they’d be in a worse place. So, we’ve absolutely done our bit to slow up the exclusions and segregations we hope.
- Maresa: What do you think the public should know, thinking about it now and previously, about inclusive education?
Colin: I feel they should know it works. They shouldn’t buy into the medical model that children can be fixed once diagnosed and that the treatment is a special school. They should embrace the fact, that going right to the local mainstream school is one of the most wonderful things they can do for their own child whatever their child’s difference or complexity might be, this is where they should start really. All the public seem to have got hold of is that inclusive education isn’t a good thing and that special education’s treatment, and interventions are the way to go if their child is Disabled for whatever reason and kind of taken a wrong turning big time, nationally, this is in the UK, and well beyond, actually. That’s what I would want them to learn – that it is worth, not just considering, but worth embracing.
Derek: I like to say to myself these days that nobody ever witnessed or experienced a successful example of inclusion and said, ‘well that’s not right’. People instinctively recognise that this is a good thing that is happening. I mean I’m also chastened by how deep seated some of the beliefs we’re up against are because if it was simply a case of evidence-based practice as they call it, we wouldn’t ever segregate people into settings where it’s a closed community and people share the same difficulties. I mean there’s almost a weekly scandal of horrific things happening in these settings, and so it will keep coming, but that doesn’t stop people thinking that the answer lies in a kind of grouping segregation of people despite the vicious evidence to the contrary. I still struggle with that. If that was a medication, people would have abandoned it a long time ago. It would have been removed from the market as something that is harmful. Yet those kinds of settings aren’t removed, they’re bursting full. Obviously, that troubles me.
Colin: I think they also need to know that a lot of learning is by imitation and copying, and chances to be with other children and other young people is crucial. Derek is right, it’s a real evil of placing adults and children together. It’s not safe. The learning opportunities are much more reduced. The general public need to get behind that and recognise it for what it is. It’s a false promise and it’s not delivering.
- Maresa: How do you think you and readers of Inclusion Now can help schools to be different?
Derek: An influence on our practice that we haven’t mentioned yet has been dialogue with Disabled activists. Which is still relatively rare, and most people in professional decision-making positions have little dialogue with Disabled people, and don’t incorporate the kind of views that Inclusion Now would express into their policy making or their general thinking. I think that is still a big gap in what informs local authorities or decision makers and that voice, however, Inclusion Now chooses to amplify it, is still crucial because the disability activists’ voice is uniform in opposing segregation. People often say don’t defend inclusion, make them defend segregation – it’s important to push that.
Colin: Building further on what Derek says is the power of a Disabled adult mentoring a child who is also Disabled, coming through the system from the youngest of age, it’s hardly been tapped into. The possibilities and the innate possibilities that brings with it – it’s such a powerful one. When we’ve seen that created, however briefly, you can see such magic occurring and such wonderful fall out for the future. That would be a very useful thing for, maybe Disabled readers of Inclusion Now to consider, if they can ever get in the door of school or anybody could open that door up. Any reader, including ourselves, any opportunity we have, to influence schools and to make them think twice about it. To hear human stories, and stories like your own Maresa, to be honest. These are stories of change and possibility: the power of the mainstream over what special schools can offer really. Challenge is what we need to do and then support them with any inclination they have, to move into a more inclusive direction.
Derek: There’s some traction there but still a lot of voices go unheard and that’s an important role for Inclusion Now, being the source of those voices.
- Maresa: What are you running now that current readers could get involved in?
Colin: There’s a Community Circle that we run every 6 weeks. Anyone within striking distance would be very welcome to that. They could email us for information about that. If people want to sit in on something, we can usually find a way in for people to join us on something. So, we’ve got training in various places across the country with person-centred planning being at the heart of that.
Derek: I think the short answer would be; just ask. Where possible we’ll try and include you or design something that fits what you’re asking for. I’m struck by the approaches we’ve had where in budgetary terms they have very little cash for any of this, but are attracted to the idea that many of the practices that they are thinking about, is about using what they already got, i.e. typical kids in many cases, which in a mainstream school don’t cost anything. So, one of the attractions in Circle of Friends training is that it doesn’t need a lot of extra resources. I think that’s key to a lot of inclusive practice.