Inclusion – what does it really mean to special educational needs professionals? SENCO Week throws light on this issue

Many SENCOs now find themselves designated ‘in charge of inclusion’, whether or not they have the title to go with it. This week we look at what inclusion really means and the groups of children who are vulnerable in terms of not being included.

Support for SENCOs
There are children in mainstream schools with a much wider range of additional needs than ever before. Each one has a right to ‘enjoy and achieve’ and learn how to become a responsible member of society; to be ‘included’ in all aspects of school life. But what does ‘inclusion’ mean to you, your support team, teaching colleagues, senior management staff? You will probably have discussed this fundamental point in staff meetings and training days by now, but if not, it is an issue that needs to be addressed. How can you have a shared ethos if there is no common agreement on terminology and how it translates in practice? Staff other than teachers and TAs, also need to buy in to ‘inclusion’: lunchtime supervisors, cleaning staff, administrative staff − and of course, governors. If you can include these people in discussions and policy making, you stand a much better chance of embedding inclusive approaches throughout the school. You’ll find plenty of examples of definitions of ‘inclusion’ in various official documents. The Every Child Matters agenda for example, emphasises schools’ responsibilities in including children with a diversity of additional needs, both within and beyond the school learning community. It aims to reduce educational failure and maximise potential for all children, with schools supporting children’s holistic development and helping to remove barriers to achievement: ‘Inclusion is about the quality of children’s experience; how they are helped to learn, achieve and participate fully in the life of the school’. (Removing Barriers to Achievement, 2004)

The National Curriculum sets out the statutory requirements for schools to provide ‘effective learning opportunities for all pupils based on their cultural, physical and learning needs’, and establishes three principles for developing an inclusive curriculum:

  • Setting suitable learning challenges.
  • Responding to pupils’ diverse learning needs.
  • Overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and groups of pupils.

The Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education produced and trialled the Index for Inclusion, in the 1990s. This is a set of materials to help schools develop as learning communities that:

  • value all students and staff equally
  • increase the participation of students in (and reduce their exclusion from), the culture, curriculum and community of school
  • reduce barriers to learning and participation for all students (not only those with impairments or those who are categorised as ‘having special educational needs’)
  • view the difference between students as resources to support learning, rather than as problems to be overcome
  • emphasise their role of building community and developing values, as well as in increasing achievement
  • recognise that inclusion in education is one aspect of inclusion in society.

Revisiting these documents and your LA’s Inclusion Quality Mark material can help your school or setting to define ‘inclusion’ in a way that is meaningful to staff, parents and pupils so that they accept shared responsibility for ‘watching out’ for a range of vulnerable learners. Any child who is ‘different’ from others in the peer group, is potentially vulnerable in terms of not being included – a different skin tone, regional accent, physical appearance, family background, can set them apart. There are a number of groups who may be particularly at risk, including those listed below:

  • pupils belonging to minority ethnic and faith groups
  • travelers and gypsies
  • asylum seekers and refugees
  • pupils who need support to learn English as an additional language (EAL)
  • pupils with special educational needs and/or disabilities
  • gifted and talented pupils
  • children in public care
  • children with medical conditions
  • young carers
  • children from families under stress
  • pregnant school girls 
  • pupils who are at risk of disaffection and exclusion.

As SENCO or inclusion director, you need to know which of your pupils belong to these various groups, what their particular needs are, and how to make good provision for them. You should also be vigilant in making sure that their progress and development is monitored.

How much information to share with colleagues can be a sensitive issue, but obviously, it is important that teachers know enough about a child’s circumstances to be able to understand their particular needs and any specific difficulties these may present. For example, Justin is the main carer for his disabled mother and a younger brother and sister, so his capacity for completing homework is often affected; helping colleagues to accept this and find ways around it, has been an important part of the SENCO role as Justin embarks on GCSE courses.

Inclusion often boils down to ‘What can we do to support this child?’ Next week we’ll consider some ways of working with colleagues to help develop inclusive approaches.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in November 2007

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.