I qualified as a primary school teacher in 2008, and the one thing that was drummed into us all through our training was the importance of inclusion for all children.
When the policy was first introduced, it was met with a lot of criticism from parents and teachers who didn;t think it was in the best interests of the child. However, a recent survey carried out by a team of solicitors has discovered that more than 58% of those asked now believes inclusion works.
Does inclusion for all in mainstream schools work?
I thought it would be interesting to ask some of my friends, to see what they thought. The general consensus was that yes, it absolutely can be done, and is done. But with this came lots of ‘if’s’…
If the school has the proper funding
If staff has the adequate training
If there is the support from outside agencies
If it isn’t at the expense of other children’s inclusion
If expectations are reasonable
I have worked in several mainstream schools, and they have been fantastic. Obviously, I can’t go into any details, but there have been children with very specific needs. There have been children who have had physical disabilities, children on the autistic spectrum, children with emotional and behavioural difficulties and children with visual and auditory impairments, amongst other things. In each school, the children’s needs were taken into account and adapted for, and were included in every aspect of school life. As one of my friends pointed out, the new SEN Code of Practice states that teachers are teachers of all children – including SEN, and this has clearly been at the forefront of their mind.
The school that I work for now has a team of fantastic learning support assistants to help children who have plans put in place. I work with children on the SEN register in small groups or on a 1:1 basis to provide support in maths. This means that the children have the chance to be in a mainstream classroom, socialising with their peers, and having the same opportunities as them. Without this support, many of the children would really struggle to be in a mainstream environment.
It seems in the schools where there is the funding and the support, and where the child’s needs allow, inclusion works well, and they flourish and progress just like any other child, but is this always the case?
Julie from Menopause 4 Thought believes that most teachers are equipped to deal with the many SEN requirements if supported and are given realistic targets and expectations. However, the inclusion of some children, particularly those with emotional and behavioural difficulties can occasionally be at the detriment to other children’s inclusion She believes that mainstream schools are under pressure to provide education for children who would thrive in well staffed and correctly funded specialist settings.
Some children have more challenging needs than others. They may need more time off school to attend medical appointments, and the fast-paced routine of mainstream school can make it difficult for them to catch up and keep up with their peers. Many parents of SEN children have voiced concerns about their child not fitting in and being a target for bullies.
Is trying to make a child who would achieve more in a specialised school ‘fit in’ with a mainstream practice, even with all of the inclusion strategies put in place, truly inclusive? I don’t know. I don’t think we can ever say whether mainstream school for a child with SEN is better than a specialist setting because each child and their needs are different. However, as another friend (they’re a great bunch!) pointed out – teachers (generally) are excellent at communicating, reacting to advice and making reasonable adjustments to ensure pupils are able to learn alongside their peers. You’ll rarely find a teacher that would ever purposely ignore or overlook the needs, whether mental, physical, educational or emotional of a pupil in their class.
Big thanks to all my friends who contributed to this post, including Julie from Menopause 4 Thought, Hannah from Budding Smiles, Rachel from Rachel in Real Life, Caroline from Mrs Magovern and Laura from Mind Mood Mommy!!!