In this article, Cath Malin (Sandwell Local Authority’s SEN and Inclusion Adviser) describes how schools and the local authority have developed a collaborative and systematic approach to developing inclusive educational practice. The approach, which makes use of the Index for Inclusion, places a particularly high emphasis on self-evaluation and is therefore responsive to the requirements of the Ofsted inspection framework.

Sandwell Local Authority has developed a self-evaluation framework for inclusion in schools as part of its strategy to promote inclusive practice in the borough. This framework is also part of the assessment process for an Inclusion Quality Mark. Schools can use Inclusion Quality Mark-related materials to self-evaluate, without putting themselves forward for a quality mark, but in practice most do so.

Why use a quality mark?

The team who developed Sandwell’s Inclusion Quality Mark (SIQM) debated long and hard about whether it was appropriate to ‘badge’ inclusion (ie to recognise formally levels of inclusive practice achieved), and it was felt that schools that genuinely wanted to develop inclusion would not need the incentive of a ‘mark’. Why then, did we opt for the SIQM? The following four reasons provide a rationale for formalising a Quality Mark approach:

1. It provides a way for schools and the SENCO or Inclusion coordinator (INCO) to achieve recognition for the excellent work they do in developing inclusive practice. 2. Working towards the Quality Mark also encourages schools to review the evidence they have that their inclusive practice is effective and to respond to the statement ‘We think we are inclusive but how do we know?’ 3. Quality Mark awards encourage other schools to join the process.

4. It helps to identify and share good practice.

Developing the process

We set up a project group involving ten schools to develop the process, with a project coordinator employed for half of the week. The other half of her time involved working as a SENCO. The schools were representative of the special, primary and secondary sectors and the contribution of the SENCOs/INCOs from those schools in developing the SIQM approach was central to the initiative and an outstanding factor in its success. The final version of the materials to support the introduction of SIQM took two years to produce, and involved frequent support and development group meetings along the way. The approach developed is premised on the belief that using SIQM is not a process for any member of staff (eg SENCO/INCO) working alone using the SIQM. As with any other initiative, the headteacher and senior management team (SMT) need to be fully committed to the process before it begins.

Although it is possible for an individual member of staff to complete an SIQM-based evaluation working in isolation, doing so has a negative impact on the value of the process. Instead, it should be about coming to a shared understanding, as a whole staff, of what inclusion means to the school and what the priorities are for further development.

The self-evaluation process is summarised in a diagram at the beginning of the SIQM document and this is reproduced in Panel 1. It provides a framework in which thinking about inclusive practice can be considered, but is not intended to be prescriptive.

Where are we now?

Part one of the process is to use the revised Index for Inclusion (Booth and Ainscow, 2002) to review the culture of the school. The first step is to read the Index and familiarise yourself with its contents. It includes a series of questionnaires for the school to use with its stakeholders, parents, pupils, governors, and staff, asking their views on the culture, policies and practices of the school. The Index process is comprehensive and schools may wish to follow all the activities suggested in the document or to adapt it to meet their own needs.

Getting started

Once the SMT has agreed that the school should participate, the coordinator should introduce the process to the whole staff, at a staff meeting. In secondary schools and in some primary schools, forward planning of staff meetings means that participants will need to think well ahead about when the process could begin. A staff meeting is a good opportunity to distribute the staff questionnaires and have them completed and returned before people leave the meeting. Putting the questionnaires into pigeonholes can mean having to waste time chasing non-returns. Sandwell’s project coordinator also recommends that members of staff are asked to complete the questionnaires under ‘exam conditions’ in a meeting, to enable them to put forward their own opinions, without being influenced by those of senior or more forceful colleagues. It is important to have genuine views from as many staff as possible so that any issues can be addressed. Once this consultation has taken place, and staff have agreed that the school should adopt a self-evaluative approach to inclusion, it should be possible to identify volunteers for a coordinating group, and to take the process forward.

Establishing a representative group

The group that coordinates the quality mark process should be representative of the whole-school community and involve, for example, parent(s), governor(s), an SIQM coordinator, a non-teaching representative (teaching assistant and/or member of administrative team) class teacher etc.

The first task of the group is to come to a shared definition of inclusion. Reviewing the school’s existing vision statement could start this process.

What do our stakeholders think of us?

Schools are required by the Self Evaluation Framework (SEF) to ask parents and pupils for their views and many have a variety of forums and surveys to facilitate the process. It is important to avoid duplication – and not add to bureaucracy – but the pilot schools in our project were convinced that the content of the Index questionnaires gave them information that was distinctive from all other sources and fitted very well with the SEF.

The second task of the project group will be to examine the content and language of any survey to ensure that it matches the context and population of their school, and is meaningful to its potential respondents. The SIQM includes the percentage of questionnaires returned by stakeholders as part of its criteria for the level of award, and the extent to which the school seeks the views of large numbers of its parents, staff, children and young people is considered to be an important demonstration of a commitment to inclusion.

The collation of questionnaires could be a daunting process for a large primary school and for secondary schools. Time to complete the collation needs to be built in to the planning and the personnel to be involved need to be identified by the coordinating group.

The analysis of stakeholder’s views will give targets for the school improvement plan. Pilot schools recognised how powerful it was for pupils, staff and parents to feel that their views are heard and acted upon, so the actions agreed must be fed back to those groups.

What does the data tell us about inclusion in our school?

Part 2 of the SIQM process is to analyse inclusion data, preferably looking at three-year trends, if information on these is available. The data within the SIQM resource document is not an exhaustive list and schools may wish to add to their own. It includes:

  • the number of episodes of exclusion on a fixed-term basis (children excluded one or more times in an academic year)
  • the number of Looked After Children (LAC) who have personal education plans (ie 6/6, 4/4)
  • the number of fixed-term exclusions of LAC
  • the percentage of annual reviews completed on time
  • that the percentage of progress of ethnic minority pupils is in line with LA and national benchmarks.

Following analysis of this data, schools are asked (within the framework) to detail any action they have taken to address issues. This again forms part of the criteria for an award.

The framework

Each section of the self-evaluation framework is divided into focusing, developing, establishing and enhancing ‘levels’ and is linked to the outcomes of Every Child Matters.

The four sections are:

  • Leadership and management
  • A School for Everyone
  • Learning and Teaching
  • Community.

Each of these sections has a number of aspects (eg Leadership and Management includes: A Shared Vision, Policies, Roles and Responsibilities, Finance, Accountability, and SEN Procedures). The aspect of Peer Group Ethos, from the A School for Everyone is presented in Panel 5.

For each aspect, a school can decide which elements of each level it has in place and should consider evidence that supports their evaluation. The school should have most of the elements of ‘focusing’ in place before considering ‘developing’ and so on. Elements of each aspect that are not in place in your school will give you your areas for development.

The framework recommends that the SENCO/INCO should be part of SMT and emphasises the importance of release time needed to carry out these roles effectively.


The final element of the self-evaluation is a moderation exercise. Schools submit their evidence, in their groups if possible, at the end of a term, for a visit during the next term. The evidence is then moderated by peers from within the group ie SIQM coordinators from other schools, school improvement advisers, the SIQM project coordinator and the SEN adviser. This is followed up with a half-day school visit to interrogate the evidence by interviewing staff, parents, pupils and visiting agencies.

School staff found the exercise of reviewing the evidence another school had submitted, and the moderation visit, a valuable learning experience. Peer moderators are an essential part of this process.

Probably the best question to ask at the end of the interview is ‘What would you change?’ Interviewees can be extremely positive prior to this, indicating that everything in respect of inclusion in the school is wonderful, but there is always room for improvement and this question draws that out.


Individuals and groups of schools outside Sandwell working collaboratively through the process can use this self-evaluation framework. It is freely available to schools, and LAs, provided the source is acknowledged when adapting it for their own use. Further details are listed below:

References and Further information

The Sandwell Quality Mark for Inclusion (ISBN 0 9550336 2 4) published in 2005, by the Professional Learning Centre for Sandwell’s Education and Children’s Services can be obtained by contacting [email protected]

The Index for Inclusion: Developing learning and participation in schools by Tony Booth and Mel Ainscow (Revised 2002) can be obtained from the Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education (CSIE), New Redland, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol BS16 1QU. An Index insert, designed to help with training and other development work to support inclusion, can also be purchased.

Panel 1 – Good practice

One of the project schools had a coordinating group that included a parent with learning difficulties. This made members of staff at the school think very carefully about the language they used in communication about the project, the content of the questionnaires etc, to ensure that it was accessible to all and did not just focus on the views of more articulate groups.

Panel 2 – Good practice


Project schools developed a variety of methods to ensure that people returned questionnaires. Pupil questionnaires were distributed in PSHE and returned immediately. Parents were encouraged to complete and return them:

  • questionnaires were given out and returned by those attending parents’ evenings
  • questionnaires were numbered and entered into a prize draw
  • the class with the greatest number returned had a party.

The least effective method was sending them home via pupils and simply asking for them to be returned.

Panel 3 – Good practice

In one large secondary school, all the members of the project group took a set of questionnaires and sorted them for analysis of the comments. Administrative staff completed the tallying of responses.

SMT allocated the administration time for this purpose. In this way, the coordinator felt that it was a manageable process.

Panel 4 – Good practice

Analysis of questionnaires in one school surprised the SMT by revealing that support staff did not feel communication was good in the school. Many of them were part-time workers who missed team briefings and staff meetings because of this. The school started an information board in the staff room for key activities each week and a weekly briefing session for support staff within the school day.

Panel 5 – Good practice

The role of peer moderators On the school visits, which are the final part of the process, they are able to use the perspective of practitioners who are working to develop inclusion. During one visit a peer moderator queried the fact presented that the number of exclusions had reduced through the use of the Learning Support Centre, asking whether there had been any similar reduction in the number of incidents of behaviour that might lead to exclusion. The school had not matched data in this way and felt it to be a useful development to do so.

In another, probing questions were asked about the inclusion of all children with disabilities on school visits (the school self-evaluation framework had indicated it was not always possible because of transport issues), making the point that their school had funded an ambulance to include one of their children on a trip.