The school I work at is incredible for our children with special needs. I am absolutely sure of that and really proud to be part of such an incredible environment.
One of our successes is how we include all of our special children.
As part of my role as Assistant Special Needs Coordinator (SENCO), every week I plan with the class teacher and special needs assistant for every child who has needs that require a little bit of extra thought. I look at the curriculum and differentiate and make the work appropriate, motivating and enable the little person to move forward with their learning.
In real terms this means:
- That a young lady with Downs syndrome will do a mini topic based around Elmer the elephant, rather than ‘rainforests’ which is what her peers will be focussed on.
- A little girl teaching the whole class the Makaton sign for the week to boost her self-esteem.
- A lad with ASD will need to reinforce tens and units using practical equipment, rather than even attempting long division.
- A girl with ADHD needs 10 minute movement breaks to keep her attentive.
- A young man with dyslexia will use a hand-held electronic device to ‘read’ the text and will use a laptop with specialist software and font.
- A little girl who finds it difficult to concentrate needs a quiet, uncluttered area facing a clear wall with no distractions.
- A boy with sensory difficulties will need a weighted blanket on his lap and works best when work is presented in small chunks.
It is possible for the vast majority of children to integrate successfully into mainstream education. There needs to be some tweaks, creative thinking and a management team who understand that some children need things to be a little different. Inclusion is possible and can work.
But. (You know there would be a but)
There are two problems.
Number One Problem. There needs to be an expert in the school who can push for this type of inclusion. Too often our special children are given work that is just not suitable and of course they struggle.Teachers are under pressure to meet targets and think if they keep teaching the same thing in the same way eventually the penny will drop. This is not true and makes me furious. Some children need work that is vastly different from the rest of the class. Presented in a different way or using specialist equipment. Or not teach a particular concept at all, but go back to basics.
And even if there is an expert in inclusion on the staff, how on earth can a teacher adapt the curriculum or teach in a creative way if she doesn’t have the support of management? I hear too often of Head Teachers or even SENCOs not having the first idea how to really, really include our special children.
Real inclusion is a skill. It is not just printing off an easier sheet and hoping that’ll be okay. It’s not okay.
Guess how much time new teachers are trained in special needs? One day. I’ll repeat that, one day! Absolutely ridiculous. So for goodness sake, how are they meant to even know about different ways of teaching our special children? Do our lovely, gorgeous children have to wait until an experienced teacher comes along? In the meantime they are subjected to work that is not appropriate, in an environment that is unsuitable and no wonder their self-worth plummets.
This is what bad inclusion practice looks like:
- The child outside in the corridor working on a completely separate curriculum with a an assistant stuck to their side, making all the decisions for them.
- A child isolated at playtimes.
- A child not given any opportunities to make mistakes and with the constant attention from ‘their’ assistant (mistakes are good – that’s how we learn).
- A child with poor self-esteem and low emotional resilience being constantly told off and reprimanded.
- No opportunities for a child to show their interests and to shine.
Our special children come in all shapes and sizes and need differentiation that suits each one individually. We have amazing resources available. Teachers need to have the courage, creativity and skill to use them.
Number Two Problem. The second problem with inclusion is that for some children mainstream is just not suitable. It breaks my heart to even say this. But we have to admit that some children have difficulties that cannot be successfully addressed in mainstream.
Schools are large, noisy places. There is movement, sound and busyness. There is colour, sound and smell. The curriculum is fast-paced and there can be changes at a moment’s notice. The pressure on staff to move on learning at a fast pace is relentless.
For some children this is too overwhelming.
What they need instead is an atmosphere of calm. An environment where the curriculum can be adapted and changes made easily on a whim or spark of interest. Where a fascination with cheerleading or Pokemon can be incorporated into every day learning. Where a multi-sensory approach can be used to enhance learning – fun activities to include art, music, dance, drama. Where the outdoors can be used consistently to motivate, ignite and challenge.
For some of our special children therefore inclusion in mainstream is not enough. They will only meet their full potential by attending a specialist school.
Some great inclusion is happening in some of our schools. But not to a high enough standard in many, many of our classrooms.
Warrior Mums, you need to make your voices heard. Demand that proper, thought out inclusion is going on.
Ask for evidence of how your child’s day is planned.
How are they accessing the curriculum?
What techniques or resources are being used?
And finally, if mainstream doesn’t feel the right place for your child, it probably isn’t.