As a starting point for a manifesto this statement is pretty fraught with flaws, but it epitomises my objectives more succinctly than any other sentence I have been able to come up with. So here it is, my inaugural promulgation and statement of intent; I believe that, in order to have done my job properly, I would have had to render myself completely dispensable. Surplus to requirements. Redundant. And herein lies the first fault line running through my self-assigned mission statement; I don’t really want to lose my job. I love my job! This is a catch-22 situation and a hurdle I will have to leap when that bittersweet moment arises. The hardships of being a SENCo, eh? And there – the term SENCo – is the second crack running through what i assure you is going to be a rock solid platform for my career in education. I don’t refer to myself as a SENCo, or use the acronym ‘SEN’ at all, if I can avoid it. My job title is INCo, or Individual Needs Coordinator, but the sentiment remains the same; my personal ethos on educational inclusion means that I kind of find my own dream job unacceptable. This won’t be the first time I’ve been described as ‘contrary’. Typical Gemini. Although I assure you that I do not ascribe to the concept of astrology in the slightest. So, what is my problem with my own job? Well, I believe that a truly inclusive school doesn’t need a SENCo… or INCo… and it is true inclusivity that I aim to achieve. The definition of inclusion, in the educational sense, is not straightforward in itself. Measures taken in the late 1970’s to ensure the educational rights of all children, including those who had previously been deemed ‘ineducable’ (see TIMELINE), seems to have resulted in an ever intensifying crusade to educate all children in mainstream schools; an under-one-roof-at-all-costs approach. But is it really inclusion if some students are educated, sometimes almost entirely, in discrete intervention or nurture groups? Is it really inclusion if a student only ever accesses lessons when their involvement is facilitated by an intense relationship with a teaching assistant or equivalent? Is it really inclusion if a student never really feels like they belong to that school community? If they sit outside of its systems? If they are viewed as ‘other’ and possibly socially excluded or even bullied? To be honest, whether or not withdrawal intervention and the use of teaching assistants constitutes true inclusivity or not is the least of my issues with those two educational paradigms. But that’s another rant for another blog post. The image below (and which also proudly adorns my office wall) represents my understanding of true inclusion more concisely than I can put into words, so here it is:
When I use this image to explain my ethos on educational inclusion to others I like to accompany it with the following clarifying and qualifying statements; some small print, if you will. Firstly, if you have achieved ‘true inclusion’ simply by not having a wide range of abilities and needs within your establishment, what you have actually achieved is exclusion. Secondly, it only counts as true inclusion if every dot in the inclusion circle is experiencing the same quality of education as all the other dots in the circle. Do all students have access to as much of what they need as they need to be successful learners? Do they all have equal access to the highest quality resources? experiences? members of staff??? If not, what you have actually achieved is some form of internal segregation or integration. Thirdly, I would be distraught if my convictions regarding true inclusion were perceived as being anti-special school. I am staunchly pro-special school (although I find the use of the word ‘special’ to be, at best, rather patronising, possibly actually pejorative) and believe that they play a vital role in ensuring that all children achieve equal quality of learning experience. If, despite a culture of true inclusivity, a student would receive greater quality of educational experience in, for example, a more sensory environment, then that is where they should be. It is the stigma attached to attending special school that needs to be eradicated, not the special schools themselves. True inclusion is the enterprise of ensuring all children receive the most appropriate education, not the enterprise of putting all of the children into the same building.
So, what have I actually achieved in this post? If nothing else it has been wonderfully cathartic, but hopefully I have also made few clear statements of intent:
- I agree that the majority of children should be educated in mainstream schools but feel that we currently perpetuate a system of internal segregation for many children with additional educational needs.
- Special schools play an important role in ensuring educational inclusion at the societal level. They probably need renaming though.
- My vision of true inclusion sadly does not require a specially appointed coordinator. This may be a ship that I have to go down with.
- I am conscious that this post may have raised more questions than it has answered. Please be in touch! I love talking about this stuff. Also, I intend to tie up all of those loose ends in future blog posts.
Finally, it is probably clear that my manifesto is actually an amalgamation of ideas that I have begged, borrowed and stolen from all sorts of organisations, authors and philosophers. I intend to keep a bibliography of sources and influences, along with a historical timeline of educational inclusion, in the tabs along the top of this page. Just as soon as I get around to it. Chill your beans. INCo14.