Having finished describing the four key features of inclusion (present, participating, achieving and supported), the Scottish Government guidance on the presumption of mainstreaming, then moves on to consider the question of inclusive practice.
There are, we are told, eight key areas in developing inclusive practice in schools:
- Inclusive school values and ethos;
- Constructive challenge to attitudes;
- Evaluation of planning process;
- Capacity to deliver inclusion;
- Parental and carer engagement;
- Early intervention, prevention and strong relationships;
- Removal of barriers to learning.
- Values and ethos – every school has to have an annual school improvement plan (Section 6, Standards in Scotland’s Schools etc. Act 2000) – which must reflect both the authority’s annual plan and the National Improvement Framework priorities. Regrettably, none of the current priorities under the framework focus on inclusion, although the wider framework certainly includes relevant issues and action points. The drawing up of the annual school improvement plan requires consultation with the Parent Council, so that affords an opportunity to influence this important document and, in turn, the values and ethos of the school.
- Leadership – The guidance makes an excellent point here, pointing out that leadership is not just about senior management in a school. The class or subject teacher is crucial too: “their approach, their attitude and their vision will be the one predominantly experienced by the children and young people in their class”. Leadership is listed as a key driver of improvement in the National Improvement Framework.
- Constructive challenge to attitudes – my own impression is that the education system as a whole remains quite hierarchical, and needs to get better at encouraging feedback (including negative feedback) from teachers, probationers, non-teaching staff, parents and carers, and even pupils. In my own line of work, I often see parents heavily criticised for raising concerns about their child’s education, and being told they should “support the school”. I feel we need to be less precious about this. Learn to raise concerns without demonising hardworking staff, and to treat complaints as an opportunity to improve, rather than a prompt to dismiss the complainants.
- Evaluation of the planning process – tracking and monitoring learning outcomes (and considering the support and strategies in place) should take place regularly – and should involve both parent and pupil. The Code of Practice includes good advice on parental involvement generally.
- Capacity to deliver inclusion – the guidance here recommends working with other agencies to deliver joint training and services. There is also a suggestion that special schools can provide support to mainstream colleagues.
- Parental and carer engagement – this is another key driver of improvement in the National Improvement Framework. As above, Chapter 7 of the Code of Practice has some excellent practical guidance on working with parents and families.
- Early intervention, prevention and strong relationships – is seen in the guidance as being particularly relevant as regards the impact of socio-economic circumstances.
- Removal of barriers to learning – this may seem like an obvious point, but is no less relevant for all that. “All children with a disability, health issue or social or emotional needs benefit from high-quality targeted support.” Interestingly, the guidance also highlights the importance of that support being provided in “all environments .. to ensure the improvement work being undertaken in school .. is also being supported at home.”
To support practitioners in developing inclusive practice, Education Scotland have developed a free online learning module, delivered by the Open University, called An Introduction to Inclusive Education. It is designed for teachers, but it looks like it can be accessed by anyone. It is a two hour course you can do in your pyjamas, and you get a “statement of participation” once you have completed it. I might give this a shot at some point. Why not try it yourself, and let me know how you get on in the comments?