Changing attitudes is fundamental to achieving full inclusion for disabled pupils, argues Liz Fitzpatrick. Here she discusses the right to equal opportunities for those with disabilities, set out in the Salamanca Statement, as well as how to go about achieving them

Playback is an organisation dedicated to creating training and educational resources which foster positive attitudes, actions and behaviours and promoting inclusive policies and practices in schools. The foundations of the resources draw on the everyday experiences of children with disabilities, their parents and wider families, thus allowing other children to connect and engage with the real lived experiences of disability. This proven approach cultivates and develops children’s thinking leading to a far more accepting, understanding and inclusive school and society in the future.

Changing attitudes and perceptions

The Playback team believes that negative attitudes and perceptions remain major barriers to inclusive education and an inclusive society. Combating marginalisation and discrimination forms the basis of our work and we argue that the foundations of inclusion and social change are rooted in education, our schools, and within the curriculum. Playback’s piloted training resources and teaching packs support local authorities, schools, class teachers and pupils by providing:

  • information on diversity and equity issues in educational settings
  • clear links to PSHE and citizenship curricula
  • participative, interactive and experiential materials
  • exercises and activities which can be used in a variety of settings.

Programmes are designed to challenge existing mind-sets by encouraging personal reflection through examining experiences and understandings of disability. The ethos underpinning Playback’s work is one of positive recognition. It encourages all pupils to recognise their own unique role in society and their individual and collective responsibilities to bring about change.

The philosophy of social inclusion is embedded in current legislation in terms of the Convention of the Rights of the Child and the requirement of equal opportunities for those with disabilities set out in the Salamanca Statement.

Education has a crucial role to play in meeting the full spectrum of children’s rights in terms of protection, provision and participation. Recent research suggests that children develop more positive views of disability if they come into contact with it in the school environment. Inclusion of disabled children in mainstream schools can result in positive experiences for everyone in the school community, which is an important step in improving attitudes. Whilst schools and teachers have the ability to influence and shape the values of our future generations and society, they also need the resources, skills, knowledge and confidence to be able to inform and develop their own and pupils’ understandings of, and attitudes to, inclusion, disability and difference. It is in this context that Playback works towards ensuring equality for children with disabilities.

Looking through disability

The Shifting Attitudes and Perceptions programme was designed to evaluate the effectiveness of Playback’s education video resource pack Looking Through Disability in terms of its influence on attitudes and perceptions amongst teachers and pupils. Eight Scottish education authority areas participated in this programme spanning a two-year period from 2002 to 2004, and involving 1,780 pupils and 175 teachers. The programme aims were to:

  • assess the direct experience of, and attitudes towards, disability, inclusion and equality held by class teachers in a mainstream educational setting
  • assess the direct experiences of, and attitudes towards, disability, inclusion and equality held by school pupils in a mainstream education setting (primary age 9-12 and secondary age 12-14)
  • offer a means of expanding knowledge and understanding of disability, equality and inclusion issues, for both teachers and pupils through providing training and teaching resources
  • evaluate the effectiveness of training and resources in shifting attitudes and perceptions and increasing understanding of disability, equality and inclusion issues.

The evaluation programme was conducted in two phases. Phase 1 was pre-delivery of the resource pack with phase 2 being post delivery. Data were collected using a combination of qualitative and quantitative methods. A self-selected sample of teachers and pupils were interviewed and consulted to assess attitudes, knowledge and understanding of disability and inclusion at the beginning of phase 1 and the end of phase 2. In phase 1, and after the interviews, the class teachers completed an attitude questionnaire and then participated in a full-day training session on the delivery and use of the pack. In phase 2, after participating in interviews, teachers completed the questionnaire again and attended a plenary session to feed back their experiences of using the material and give details of pupils’ classroom work.

The Looking Through Disability video is accompanied by a script, lesson plan ideas, curricular activities and worksheets. The evaluation showed that previewing the video was essential to using the resource pack effectively and that the video was used in various ways by teachers: as a stand-alone tool to promote classroom discussion and debate; to support particular curricular topics through the use of selected sections or quotes; to address key whole-school issues such as diversity and equality; and to tackle individual concerns such as bullying. The video provided pupils with the opportunity to see and hear disabled children talk about everyday matters in a way that emphasises the similarities, rather than differences, between us all.

The resource pack is set out in year-related sections which highlight direct links to curricular subjects, including PSHE and citizenship, as well as to pupils’ learning outcomes. The resource also provides teachers with suggested lesson plan ideas, activities and linked video clips. Listed below are two examples of classroom activity sessions which teachers used during the evaluation programme.

Example 1: Teachers used the Access and Barriers activity to draw attention to the social and educational barriers facing disabled pupils and to promote active citizenship. It encouraged pupils to survey, assess and think about facilities in their classroom, school or local community from the perspective of those with disabilities. These exercises identified a range of problems and produced a variety of solutions and a wide range of equipment design (often copyrighted) which was relayed to Playback for further action. Pupils also wrote letters to children they identified with in the video which highlighted how they empathised with the physical and social barriers they confronted. Pupils were also encouraged to write to their local councillors to ask for help in improving services and amenities.

Example 2: Teachers used a number of video clips and statements such as: ‘I want to join in with my friends’ and ‘When I dream I dream about the future…’ to prompt discussion and debate at circle time. The activity was extended by asking the pupils to complete the worksheet Just The Same. Feedback illustrated that the children were able to identify a number of ways in which they were similar and also what made them feel excluded. Reasons for feelings of exclusion were diverse such as differing cultural, racial and ethnic identities. But the children also recognised that everyone can have dreams and hopes for their futures. Pupil comments included:

  • ‘It’s not like they’re any different, just because they’re disabled. They can still think.’
  • ‘Yes they do have dreams, because they want to achieve their goal.’

Key findings of the programme

Data were collated and analysed by an independent agency, Jura Consultants in Edinburgh. Their report highlighted that:

  • training sessions raised teachers’ competence and confidence in discussing inclusion, disability and equality issues with pupils
  • class teachers noticed a significant difference in pupils’ understanding and perceptions of diversity and difference
  • class teachers found the resource activities fully engaged and encouraged pupils to think positively about, and become active in, changing their school environment and community
  • participating pupils were able to clarify more fully the meaning of disability, reject the ‘not normal’ tag and recognise that everyone is unique
  • children began to see disability in a very real way and that their attitudes shifted from sympathy to empathy
  • teachers were able to stress the similarities rather than differences between children and that the resources could be widened to encompass all kinds of discrimination, exclusion and marginalisation.

Teachers stated that the educational materials encouraged a great deal of enthusiastic discussion within the class. The resources were considered to be worthwhile in that they assisted:

  • identifying misconceptions about disability and inclusion
  • assessment of progression in children’s awareness and understanding
  • development of positive attitudes and perceptions
  • wider classroom discussions and debates on issues of discrimination and difference and promoted participatory forms of citizenship.

Teachers’ analysis of the resources and activities indicated pupils’ high level of engagement with disability issues and more sophisticated thinking. They found:

  • there was raised awareness of the physical barriers (for instance mobility difficulties) and social barriers (such as prejudice) which are encountered by disabled people
  • pupils felt that in some circumstance social barriers were more difficult to overcome and began to apprehend disability in terms of equality issues
  • primary school pupils tended to concentrate on practical problems and their solutions whereas secondary age pupils focused on the difficulties which they might face through befriending someone with a disability
  • pupils began to empathise with disabled children and were able to identify a range of other axes of exclusion
  • pupils were more likely to try and get to know disabled peers rather than excluding them simply on the basis of their disability
  • classes were more socially inclusive of disabled pupils both inside and outside the classroom.

The evaluation findings suggested that the resource provided both staff and pupils with opportunities to:

  • reflect on their own experiences of, attitudes towards, and understanding about inclusion and diversity
  • recognise the negative impact of being excluded, physically and psychologically, and the feelings associated with exclusion
  • feel confident and competent in listening to the views of others
  • reflect on and appraise their own behaviour, practice and skills.

    Overall, the most significant finding was that the resource materials assisted in producing a positive shift in attitudes, perceptions and levels of understanding about inclusion, disability and equality. It was clear that the video and classroom exercises encouraged and engaged pupils in empathising with the issues surrounding exclusion and difference. The pack was held to have helped pupils to recognise that as active citizens we all have the ability to contribute to change.

Current evaluation programmes

The delivery and evaluation of Playback’s resources are currently being carried out by NICIE (Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education). The Council for the Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) and NICIE met with Playback in June 2006 to discuss approaches to embedding the resources within the PSHE curriculum. Previously, Playback’s teacher training sessions in Northern Ireland were evaluated by Ulster University which reported how teachers became creatively immersed in disability issues from discovering, unpacking and owning the resources and that each individual teacher was able to relate the resources to their particular circumstances.

Both evaluations confirm the value and benefit of appropriately designed resources such as Playback’s, and highlighted the relevance of the materials within the PSHE programme, environmental studies and citizenship education. Teachers stated that the materials supported and enabled them in addressing these sensitive and complex issues. Full evaluation reports are available from Playback.

The Playback team would like to end by saying that we all have a responsibility for making social inclusion a reality. We can begin and embed this process in our schools by influencing attitudes and perceptions. Playback’s programme and resources provide a means of making this happen by offering an established and proven approach to effective and practical ways of translating policy in practice.

  • Playback is currently looking for an education authority in England or Wales to work with us in developing and conducting a further evaluation programme.  Please contact Liz Fitzpatrick on 0131 453 5514 (Liz Fitzpatrick is director of Playback)