I’ve been away from my blog for a couple of days, I’m afraid to say that I just haven’t felt like writing! I hate that feeling because I feel like I’m betraying my love of reading and writing. This topic in particular confounded me last week and sort of brought about my writer’s block. I’m only a few years into my career and, of course, as a teacher I believe in inclusion. I’ve seen it work brilliantly and I’ve seen where it doesn’t. In my current class there’s a clear example of inclusion probably doing more harm than good, but when you’re stuck between the EHCP process and a hard place you have to do what you have to do.
So I was going to write about my personal experience, but then I got scared about GDPR and anyone being identified as it is quite a unique case. What has prompted me tonight to write about inclusion is my enrolment in an online British Sign Language course. Firstly, I need to plug this course. I’ve done one module so far and it’s brilliant. It’s normally £25 but with everything that’s going on they’ve developed a cheaper, tiered price list that starts at £3! Find all the details here.
There are two key things I’ve taken away from this recent venture so far, the first one I want to mention is the vastness of inclusion and what that means. Now I don’t know if I’m being naive, but at this stage in my career I understand inclusion to be about ensuring that everyone has access to the same teaching and learning as everyone else, regardless of learning or behaviour disability or challenge. I’ve never taught a child who is Deaf (or deaf – look it up, capitalisation makes a difference!) and until this year I hadn’t taught any children with complex needs, only a few challenging behaviours. The reason I feel that inclusion is so challenging is because it is so vast. We talk about the unique child and how everyone is different, but then every disability is different isn’t it? I’ve taught a handful of children with autism, dyslexia and dyspraxia and whilst two children may have had the same diagnosis, none of them were alike at all. The learning support assessment would flag up the same suggestions for supporting them in the classroom but you could not apply some or all to each child exclusively. What works for one hasn’t always worked for another in my experience.
This is why I reserve having a loud opinion on inclusion. Whilst I would love for everyone to access and experience the same, for some children it just doesn’t work. There can be so many barriers outside of that child’s own disability. Staffing, training, funding, resources, time – all of these things can impact our ability to promote inclusion, and these are the challenges we face if the child is even able to cope in a mainstream classroom. I know of one child however who I taught during my training in Y1. An abundance of complex needs that branched out into the physical and behavioural and led to this child having to be restrained for their own safety on a number of occasions. I recall conversations where the main concern was, ‘What happens when this child gets older and gets stronger?’ We couldn’t see how we could help this child experience mainstream school because there would come a time when real damage could and would be done that would be unable to be undone. It brings me great joy to say that I worked with this now Y4 child all day last week as they have started coming into school for childcare provision and it was a wonderful day. Everyone’s, not least the child’s, hard work has paid off and whilst entering for any formal examinations is off the table, they are about to embark on a Y5 journey, and I’m sure Y6, in a school that didn’t know if they could keep them safe and educated. That is when inclusion succeeds. What happens after Y6 is yet to be seen, and truth be told this child probably will need to attend alternative provision for their own safety and to receive appropriate education, but not yet – and that’s the win for me.
Where it doesn’t work? Well, my complex child who attends different classes and ‘accesses’ two different curriculums in the name of inclusion but who has made little to no progress over the last 12 months, and that is nobody’s fault. I should note that I typed accesses in inverted commas because the curriculum I have to provide for this child is of little value. What would a child get from Y5 history when they have the reading comprehension level of a Y1? We’ve worked so hard, as has this child, but we are still battling to get an EHCP so that we can start the process to get them into alternative provision because a mainstream secondary is unthinkable for this child. It’s a disgrace that the way the system works means that this battle has been going on for far too many years. The vast array of SEND means that inclusion is, and in my opinion always will be, a tricky, challenging and controversial (for some) topic.
The second thing I wanted to talk about was what I’ve learned so far from my BSL course. I’ve only learned the alphabet and numbers 1-10 so far (that’s session 1) but I’ve really surprised myself at how well I appear to have picked it up. I can look at words being finger spelled and follow along to identify the word and I can recite the alphabet almost fluently. I put off signing up to this despite telling my colleagues I was going to because I was worried it would be too much and I just wouldn’t be able to remember it. I looked at an image of the manual alphabet and just thought there’s no way! I’ve proven myself wrong tonight and it’s given me a little boost. I’m very lucky that my brain works in such a way that physical things, such as using my hands for sign language, sink in quite quickly – and always have done. It’s not that way for everyone and this is where the connection with inclusion comes in, what I have picked up easily could take another person weeks to get right. I’m not being big-headed, there’s a plethora of skills and knowledge that will never sink in for me that come naturally to many people I know. It just got me thinking about inclusion and the idea that it never stops. Adults can face as many learning difficulties as children, and I think that for us to fully understand and appreciate the challenges of inclusion in schools, we need to be able to apply it to our own lives and experiences.
And finally, I’m hoping to learn more about inclusion and SEND as my new school has a dedicated team and an integrated SEND facility as we have quite a few children with a whole range of SEND. I only got a glimpse at my interview but from what I can remember there’s a sensory room, walking frames and apparatus and a whole bunch of technology to support their learning, I can’t wait to find out more!