Inclusive education is when all students, regardless of any challenges they may have, are placed in age-appropriate general education classes that are in their own neighbourhood schools to receive high-quality instruction, interventions, and supports that enable them to meet success in the core curriculum (Bui, Quirk, Almazan, & Valenti, 2010; Alquraini & Gut, 2012).
Each student should be offered every possible opportunity to help them to meet their potential in school. This, therefore, requires an approach that takes note of their uniqueness and challenges facing them whilst offering every support available to progress and succeed.
This is NOT the same as offering them an advantage over others; rather it is an attempt to equalise situations that would otherwise further disadvantage a student. Take, for example, an intellectually able student with dyslexia. i.e a reading challenge that straight away puts them at a disadvantage as most exams are based on reading a question then writing answers. Why should this student not be allowed to show what they can do and to achieve in the same way as another student who is intellectually similar but does not have a learning need?
My years of experience have taught me that students with SEN, learning challenges, or whatever term you wish to use are as intellectually able as anyone else. In the same way as students without such needs are a diverse group, so are those with challenges. It would be morally wrong not to support them to succeed and progress in the same ways as their peers. Why should they not be allowed to shine as others do?
Here are some ways to ensure students are included in school:
1. Inclusion in the classroom
In an inclusive classroom, students with needs are educated alongside their peers whenever possible. This promotes acceptance and understanding by both their peers and teachers. Allowing students with needs to take part in group tasks whilst others listen and accept their ideas and opinions is paramount to them feeling that they belong and are an integral part of the school community.
This means that teachers will, no doubt, have to make some changes either to how the lesson is delivered or to how the student can work through a task. Delivering a lesson to a class with a wide range of diversity can be challenging for both students and staff. Addressing the needs of all is difficult, tiring and requires training for them to feel proficient in this way of teaching. Staff require the resources and training necessary to offer a professional learning experience to all.
It can be very difficult for students to work with one another in a meaningful way. Everyone needs to show patience and understanding whilst the students work at their own pace and in their own unique way. For young children and teenagers it can be difficult to change their behaviour to accomodate the needs of someone else.
In my experience, this can initially be quite tough as disagreements simmer and at times, erupt into full-blown arguments. This is not a reason to abandon such an approach, rather it is a growth learning experience for all involved. It teaches skills that in the adult world are invaluable- getting along with others that you may not initially choose to work with.
Quite often children with needs require pastoral support to bolster their academic experiences. Students with Aspergers, for example, may find working with others quite uncomfortable. They may not understand the concept of taking turns and making group decisions. Conversely, their peers may also need support in accepting that such students, whilst different, should be included in the group, and that they too have a valuable role to play and insight to offer the group.The school’s pastoral team should be able to offer support with such social issues to allow the learning experience to move forward in a peaceful and respectful manner.
Then there is the issue of delivering lessons to a wide range of academic ability. Often this requires additional resources and ways of delivery that will allow all students to access the school’s curriculum.Many tasks may require to be broken down with some students doing several smaller individual parts of the task at a time until it all comes together for them. Others may require information and knowledge to be offered in a variety of different ways that match how they learn. (see blog on Different learning styles) For example, some students learn better visually, i.e videos, posters, graphs, whiteboard presentations, whilst others prefer audio resources such as class recordings or hands on (experiential) activities to help them learn. Nowadays, there is a host of new technologies that can be utilised in class to help students understand and engage in their learning (see link below). In all of this, every child should feel challenged in their learning, once again, a vast task in classes where the diversity of needs is broad.
2. Inclusion outside of the classroom
All students should have access to the extracurricular activities that they wish to participate in. Even where their choice may not be where they are particularly skillful or their strength, having the opportunity to participate is great for their self esteem and sense of belonging.
I once had a highschool student with Aspergers who wanted to participate in a school council project around promoting awareness of Autism. Given this student’s social awkwardness, we were rather apprehensive at first when he announced that he wanted to address the whole school regarding how he felt about his condition. His peers came up with a plan to surround him whilst he was speaking to offer moral support, and others (those seated in the auditorium) were poised to give a standing ovation no matter how his speech went. Once we had given the student the opportunity he craved, on the day, he was fantastic and the whole school stood up for him. This student is now an activist and lobbyist for the rights of Autistic Children. Sometimes, we have to offer experiences that, like the one above, can be life changing.
3. Inclusion at exam times and assessments
Students with needs often find these times particularly daunting because of their barriers to learning and academic success. Most countries have their own legal framework on how to support students who have a specific need that limits their access to education and their progress within the system ( see links below). They also offer support for assessments and examinations too. These have a variety of names such as ‘exam concession’, ‘alternative accommodations’ and ‘Inclusive arrangements’. The support that is offered is extremely varied but the most common are extra time and use of a word processor, a reader or a scribe.
Usually, there is someone in school who oversees this support and can offer advice on how to access them for your child. Schools are allowed to offer certain adjustments and for others will require the student to have some tests and assessments before being offered these. This service is usually offered by an Educational Psychologist (see LINK to ‘What does an educational psychologist do?’).
There are other professionals who may offer specific testing on areas that become barriers and affect student learning e.g a medical doctor or Speech and Language or Occupational Therapist. However, only an Educational Psychologist will look at the child’s learning in any depth.
A report from any of these professionals is sent to the relevant examination board, alongside evidence of a need from school staff. The exam board will then offer exam concessions, alternative arrangements and support. The final decision lies with these boards and not the school. If schools offer inclusive practice and arrangements for students with needs, it is much easier to gather the evidence required by examination boards.
Will other students be disadvantaged through inclusive education?
Studies show that in actual fact all students learn more when teachers and schools have inclusive practices. More focused and tailored approaches to learning ensure that students with needs have higher achievements. There are examples of improved performance in literacy, maths and social skills- all the building blocks for future life and success.
Pertains to England, UK