Recently published research by a team based at the University of Cambridge highlights the efforts of teachers and other staff in schools to develop inclusive educational practice. At the same time, it provides evidence that these efforts are unsustainable in the long term, and that a national review of policy and practice is required.
The Costs of Inclusion (1) research study undertaken by researchers from the University of Cambridge, commissioned and funded by the National Union of Teachers (NUT), was launched in a small blaze of publicity, some of which used unhelpful and inflammatory language (May 2006), but what does the report actually say? Firstly, and contrary to some reportage in the educational press, it does not present evidence and argument in favour of abandoning inclusion as a failed experiment. It does, though, call for a reappraisal of national education policy within which inclusion needs to be embedded if it is to succeed. Secondly, it analyses the impact of inclusive educational policies on key stakeholders – schools, teachers, parents and pupils – and uses this analysis to make recommendations about how inclusive education might be taken forward. In other words, it puts flesh on the bones of an argument – a well considered one – and provides fifteen points for politicians and policymakers to reflect upon. The overall conclusion of the researchers is captured in the research report’s concluding paragraph:
‘There is an unarguable case for more intelligent and targeted resource provision. But resources on their own will not bring about change. The issues run deeper and challenge the very nature of current policy. Inclusion can only work in a culture of collaboration in which there is a sharing of resource and expertise. Competitive market-driven policies impact on the most vulnerable of children and penalise the most dedicated of teachers. The most striking aspect of this study is the goodwill of teachers who believe in inclusion and try to make it work but do not find their goodwill repaid by the level of professional support they deserve. It is time for a thorough review of policy and change.’ (p67)
The research study involved the exploration of views of a wide range of staff working in 20 schools (first, middle primary, secondary and special) in urban and rural catchment areas) and those of parents and pupils. It also involved the use of questionnaires, observation and Ofsted data. The researchers deliberately set out to select schools that had already made a commitment to inclusion and were considered, against specific criteria, to exemplify good practice. The aim of the research was to review current inclusive practice in ‘favourable circumstances’, based on the premise that where problems and difficulties for children with learning difficulties were identified these would be ‘exacerbated elsewhere in the educational system in schools where inclusion is given a lower priority.’ (p10)
Findings from the study
The findings from the study are too detailed to present in this research news summary. However, they are likely to resonate with the experiences of many professionals working in schools, as well as those of parents, and are well worth reading. Although some of the concerns identified by the researchers seem to be based on rather slight evidence (see comment panel opposite), the cumulative effect of this evidence is powerful. Furthermore, the discussion of evidence challenges some of the simplistic assumptions ‘for’ or ‘against’ inclusion that characterise debate in this area of education. Instead it advocates changes in education policy that make good sense, and really do need to be carried out if inclusive education is to avoid backlash that will take educational provision for many children with learning difficulties backwards rather than forwards.
The research report’s recommendations are outlined below, and presented thematically.2 In reality, of course, the recommendations, and the findings they are based upon, are inextricably interconnected and need to be considered together.
Developing collaborative practice and provision Inclusion should not rely on individual schools struggling to contain children with special needs but should be conceived as a collaborative effort, sharing resources in a spirit of mutual support. Special schools should have a significant role to play as an expert resource for mainstream schools while they in turn have a supporting role to play in partnership with special schools. (7.2.1)
Future policy should serve to enhance collaboration among schools to ensure the best service to all children. Currently, collaborative initiatives are undermined by fragmentation of school types (specialist schools, academies, selective schools), competition for pupils and reluctance to accept children seen as detrimental to the school’s attainment profile. Advocacy of network learning communities, joined-up child and family services and cooperative multi-agency work will be futile and counterproductive if policy fails to address these systemic issues. (7.2.2)
Reconceptualising policy, practice and provision Special provision in the form of Pupil Support Units off-site, or learning zones within schools, should be tailored to need, expertly staffed and not merely a form of containment and diversion for SEN pupils. Together with emerging policies on extended schools, Every Child Matters, Youth Matters and new imperatives for inter-agency collaboration, there is an urgent need to review the nature of school leadership and resource implications. (7.2.9) Government will need to review existing policies to ensure that they are coherent and mutually reinforcing. The evidence demonstrates unequivocally that the needs, interest and potential of many children with special needs are not being met. Attempts to fit them to the targets and demands of the National Curriculum constrains at least three of the Every Child Matters outcomes – enjoyment and achievement, contributing to the community, and economic wellbeing. It is a fundamental principle that teachers should shape curriculum and assessment according to need and ability. It is difficult to see how government can, with integrity, pursue personalised learning and assessment for learning without addressing the constraints and anomalies which impede effective practice. (7.2.10)
The principle of natural proportion requires a more equitable approach to admission and retention of children with special needs across local authorities and across the country. This would become more feasible with a more intelligent and sensitive approach to the accreditation of children for whom GCSE and other attainment benchmarks are inappropriate and counterproductive. (7.2.13)
Training and professional development
Effective and targeted professional development for school staff – for teachers, TAs, administrative staff and senior leaders – is an urgent priority. This should include elements of joint workshops, focusing on modes of collaboration and whole-school policies as well as addressing learning needs and strategies for dealing with behavioural issues. Local authorities have a responsibility for ensuring that there are opportunities for such professional development. (7.2.3)
There is an urgent need to reappraise systems of funding and, in particular, statementing, the rationale of which is less and less obvious. In addition, the process can lose the goodwill of parents and teachers who become frustrated by what they see as stalling and penny-pinching policy. It consumes time in individual advocacy which often results in a sense of defeat. For their part, schools and local authorities should not rely on statementing but take the initiative in seeking relevant provision and forms of funding. (7.2.4)
SENCOS should in all cases be qualified teachers. Training and support for SENCOs is vital in ensuring the effectiveness of their strategic role in provision. Their influence will be enhanced if they have senior status and are enabled to play a substantive role in planning and policy development. This implies involvement
in admissions, transitions, financial management and curricular decision making. Their liaison with class teachers and TAs should also be a cardinal feature of their role. This range of responsibilities, however, requires strong support at school and LA level. (7.2.7)
Staffing and support If inclusion means anything it is the right to be taught by a suitably qualified teacher. Currently that principle is frequently breached. School policies should therefore ensure that TAs do not carry responsibility for differentiating the curriculum but rather work under the supervision of teachers to plan whole-class strategies of support. This is, however, dependent on teachers being relieved of the pressure which leads to TAs taking ‘difficult’ children off their hands. (7.2.5)
Additional and strategically targeted resources for professional development are of the highest priority, together with realistic levels of staffing and ongoing expert support for teachers. This is most at issue in disadvantaged communities where there is often a critical mass of unmet need that overwhelms school staff and creates a downward spiral of achievement. (7.2.6)
While the provision of non-contact time for planning has been a welcome development in primary schools, workload reform has not addressed the fundamental issue of teachers’ time being taken up by behavioural rather than pedagogic matters. It is clear that many teachers still carry an unsustainable workload. Reducing workload pressures, which disadvantage all children, but impact most markedly on SEN pupils, will require additional non-contact time, access to high quality resources and appropriate support services. (7.2.8)
School governance and leadership Governors should be fully appraised of, and kept in touch with, developments, making time to discuss issues of workload, professional support, staff deployment and resourcing with continuous feedback as issues emerge. These issues assume particular relevance with respect to inclusion. (7.2.11)
School leadership has been shown to be as critical in this area as in any other, but it is relatively powerless without systemic reform. There is an imperative for all concerned with the development and implementation of an inclusive policy to address diminishing teacher morale, children and young people badly served by inappropriate curriculum, and by lack of high quality support. (7.2.12)
Ofsted has a key role to play in encouraging schools to ensure that issues of inclusion are embedded in approaches to self evaluation at classroom, school, community and inter-agency levels. Otherwise these issues may continue to fester, aggravating resentment rather than being addressed proactively and with an evidence-based approach. Ofsted itself may not be able to carry out such a remit, however, without requisite professional development of HMI. (7.2.14)
A national policy review
An independent review of inclusive practice is now essential. This should include a radical reappraisal of curriculum and assessment and the contradictions inherent in the interface of the standards and inclusion agendas. (7.2.15)3
References and notes 1. The Costs of Inclusion: A study of inclusion in English primary, secondary and special schools by John MacBeath, Maurice Galton, Susan Steward, Andrea MacBeath and Charlotte Page. Published by University of Cambridge Faculty of Education. ISBN 0-9543823-3-1. Commissioned and funded by the National Union of Teachers. 2. The fifteen recommendations in the research report have been grouped under thematic headings in this listing. The themes may not be ones that the researchers would have used but they are presented in this way to identify key aspects of policy, practice and provision that may need consideration by anyone involved in trying to bring about change and improvement.
3. The Select Committee review of SEN (July 2006) may, in part, have addressed the call for such a review.
Whether the findings from this research or the recommendations that follow from these can be considered robust is a matter of debate and raises concerns about the nature and quality of research and how it is used in a climate where developments in inclusive education are discussed in politically capricious and volatile ways. All too frequently discussion values opinion above evidence and the publication of this research highlights the importance for all ‘stakeholders’ of approaching important areas of study responsibly and sensitively.