Not Ready But Ready To Start

When I first started writing my blog, Twitter was an important but a rather negative place for me.  I can remember stopping my car, pulling over, because I’d hear my phone trill – the Twitter notification – and not being able to bear having the response sat there without my justification, explanation, clarification or retaliation to go with it.  With hindsight, it probably wasn’t as bad as it felt at the time.  Writing a blog about something that matters to you feels a bit like putting your heart outside your body for a battering and, if I’m honest, I still experience anxiety every time I put something new on my blog.  I feel very differently about Twitter though; in fact, I love Twitter and it plays a huge role in shaping and reshaping the provision in my school, how I describe and explain it, and how I understand its place in the wider conversation.  I no longer stop the car to look at Twitter notifications (but I do look at them straight away when I do stop!).  Over the years, the demographic of who I follow on Twitter has changed from being mainly SEND related organisations and other SENCOs / teachers, to increasingly being parents of children with SEND, support groups for parents of children with SEND, and adults with disabilities, and it is this, I think, that has influenced my actions the most.

The first thing that the Twitterverse has got me thinking about is the place of my opinions about inclusion and disability rights in the wider discourse.  I think my opinions have a place – as a SENCo, as a teacher, and as a person in society who feels strongly about how I want the society I live in to be – and I talk about the things I talk about because they genuinely matter to me, they impact on people who are important to me, and they impact on me personally; we all benefit from the diversity that a fair and just society affords us.  I know, also, that I’m shouting from the edges.  I am not a person with a disability, nor am I a parent of a child with SEND, but I am learning, I hope, to spend more time listening to the voices that are shouting from the middle and, perhaps even more importantly, to the silences that come from that same place.

That isn’t to say that I don’t believe there’s a role of us at the edges… far from it.  Every marginalised and oppressed group in history has attained their entitlement to equality through the strength of their combined voice from the middle with the support of their allies at the edges and, in the same ways, the drive for disability equality (including true educational inclusion) is no different.  But, in other ways, I think it is different.  I have long been asking myself why the inequality and oppression of those with disabilities – in education and in society – is so widely accepted and, in some cases, even openly celebrated (e.g. schools celebrating having loads of TAs or a building being proud of having disabled ramp access around the back) and I don’t know the answer… but I do have some thoughts.  There is always the presence of an unequal power dynamic between an oppressor and the oppressed but, perhaps, more so when the oppressed group is those with disabilities.  The things that have been put in place in the name of inclusion are a step in the right direction but rarely go far enough.  Not far enough to actually meet the needs of the full diverse range of people that make up our society (e.g. the limitations of a standard disabled toilet facility for those requiring an adult sized bed and overhead tracking / hoist systems).  So what do they go far enough to do?  To make an able majority feel that they’ve ticked a box? Made an effort? Get that feel good factor and sense of self-congratulation that we’ve done something nice for those we perceive as less fortunate?  The word ‘disability’ represents such a diverse and broad spectrum of people and such a significant proportion of society that any sweeping statement to describe those with disabilities is likely to be homogenising and alienating, even offensive, and that is not my intention.  By the very nature, though, of disability, it includes people for who mobility, communication, processing of the world around them, seeing or hearing is a challenge and, as a result of this, creating that unified voice to shout from the middle is going to be that bit harder than it has been for other oppressed groups.  The role of the allies at the edges is crucial.

A second thing that Twitter has got me thinking about is disabled identities and how my views and way of working relate to this and, again, I can only approach this from where I stand.  I have often said, when trying to make my stance clear, that there is no such thing as SEND children and children; only children… or that there’s no such thing as disabled people and people; only people.  I stand by these statements but only so far as to mean that there is no dichotomous, two types of human and there’s no way of dividing us that should negatively impact on the way in which people access society, or their human rights and entitlements.  This is not about erasing disabled identities, in fact, the very opposite; this is about celebrating the creativity, interest, progress and joy that living in a diverse and just society gives us.  We all benefit from living in a diverse and just society.  Of course, in my own school we have students with identified learning needs, diagnoses and physical, visual or hearing impairments, in the same way there are students with different abilities, skills, eye colours, religions, socio-economic backgrounds and shoe sizes – the point is that all of these things should be embraced as part of what makes that person unique.  None of these things should result in a young person being denied access to their full high quality education as part of the main of their school community.  ‘Inclusion’ operates on the basis that some people would not be included in what was happening if it wasn’t for this thing we call inclusion.  Have an inclusion department is like having a ‘not racist’ department; shouldn’t it go without saying?

My third thought for 2018/19 is about how we can synthesise two dissonant themes that run concurrently through the discourse around inclusion and SEND provision that I see, and dip in and out of, on my Twitter feed every day.  On the one hand, there is a sense of urgency – our young people have waited too long; there are children whose needs are not being meet right now; this is the time for change.  And, on the other hand, there’s the recognition that society and education is not ready – teacher training doesn’t prepare them, school funding doesn’t facilitate it, and societal attitudes, systems and structures don’t allow it.

We aren’t ready.

But we are ready to start.

It would be easy to become overwhelmed by the enormity of the task ahead and clearly nothing is going to happen overnight.  There are lots of structural and systemic changes that need to take place that aren’t even on the cards right now, but each of us is only responsible for our own attitudes, behaviours and choices.  And I really strongly believe that, if we all take control of what we can take control of  – our own selves, our families, how we interact with the community, our school, our department, our classroom – that change will start (or continue to start) to take place.  There’s no use throwing yourself at a brick wall, but you can chip away at the bottom of it and, eventually, that wall will fall.  Specifically thinking about inclusion in education, it can be difficult, particularly with the constraints of the LA, funding et cetera, for a lone voice to implement change even at the school, department or classroom level.  But we can all, regardless of our situation, make a difference to the one thing that constitutes the first step and the bottom line of inclusion and disability equality: attitudes.  The moment you stop seeing children and SEND children as two different types of student, and start truly celebrating and maximising on diversity, change can start to take place.  The high quality and high expectations we bestow upon the most able is the entitlement of all students.  The individualisation and care we afford our least able and most vulnerable student is the right of all children too.  If you wouldn’t deal with a gap in the understanding of your most able child by putting them with a TA, don’t do it to your least able.  If you wouldn’t exam factory and push your least able, most vulnerable students to the very limits of their mental health, then don’t do it to your most able student either.

We are each just a complex mishmash of abilities and needs trying to function in a best fit but evolving world – each of unique and that’s what makes us the same – and maybe there’ll never be a big revolution… but that doesn’t mean we can’t keep working on change for the better.

 

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Summer Inspiration Stories

For longer than I haven’t, I have spent my summers working for a charity that provides play schemes and residential short breaks for children (5-18) with moderate to severe learning and / or physical disabilities.  No matter where I’ve been or what I’m doing, this is where you will find me in the summer holidays.  It is, first and foremost, a respite service for parents of disabled children and I know, of course, that there are many such organisations… but none, I truly believe, quite like ASAS.  Exceptionally good ratios (more staff than children!!!), our own accessible transport, incredibly low staff turnover (resulting in a team that knows one another and works well together), a high quality training and induction programme, and leadership that lives on the ground, leading by example whether its providing personal care or wearing a grass skirt and a shaving foam beard; we decide what we think our children will enjoy and then we make it happen no matter what.  We make the world work for us.  One of the reasons I became a teacher was to keep my summer holidays free for ASAS.  My first fights for fair access were to get ASAS children into cinemas and onto rollercoasters when the first answer was no.  The first step on my SENCo journey was a fifteen year old volunteer through the doors of this charity.  I don’t know where I’d be without it.  I don’t even know who I’d be without it.  All this time later, I need my summer work more than ever to contextualise, motivate and inspire me for the year ahead.  We haven’t let anything stand in the way of us sailing, caving, climbing and just generally having a great time… nothing is impossible with the right people and determination.

The summer scheme is, and has been for as long as I’ve worked for it, held at a special school where I used to work as a teaching assistant (yes, you read that correctly).  The school has, before, during and after my employment there, had its ups and downs, but it too – along with Mencap, who I worked for whilst I was at university – played a huge role in shaping my views and attitudes regarding inclusion and disability in society.  No matter what has happened and how much has changed since I worked there, my heart still lives at Green Meadows special school.  This summer, I have loved finding and reading the inspiring phrases that are now dotted around the school building and I’ll definitely be keeping these in mind as I go into the new academic year.

 

A key job for me this summer has been reviewing our approach to supporting students experiencing a decline in their mental health and wellbeing, including those who are showing us this through a deterioration in their behaviour.  The phrase ‘fight fire with water’ has really stuck in my mind throughout that review process.  In fact, the more I think about it, the phrase ‘fight fire with fire’ doesn’t make sense on any level.

There were hundreds of magic moments this summer, like every summer, that I’ll take with me into the upcoming academic year but I’m just going to talk about one wonderful place that we’ve been lucky enough to be going to for years.  I have, a longish time ago, spoke briefly about Nell Bank before.  If you want to know what inclusion – true inclusion – can look like, look no further; this is how you do it.

Nell Bank is a day and residential outdoor experience centre based in beautiful Ilkley, West Yorkshire.  It isn’t simply that Nell Bank is very inclusive, but the way that Nell Bank is inclusive that makes it special.  True inclusion is seamless and all-encompassing.  True inclusion is invisible.  At Nell Bank, there’s no separate entrance, alternative routes with ramps, or annexed areas that tick the ‘disabled friendly’ box; it all just… is… for everyone.  And I’m talking about climbing frames and assault courses here!  It is one of very, very few places where we can all go together and all have an equally good time – an adventure – together.  Whether its pond dipping (all raised ponds), splashing in the water play area, riding in the Nell Buggy (wheelchair accessible golf cart!), playing on the massive fort climbing frame (wheelchair friendly right to the very top!), or completing the superb assault course (see photos!!!), there is nothing here that we cannot all enjoy together.  Also, we just go for the day but I happen to know that their residential facilities include height adjustable tables, kitchen and beds, hoists, and a hygiene suite that has a bath with a lowering platform.

 

 

If I can make inclusion at my school as seamless and all-encompassing as it is at Nell Bank then I’ll be one happy INCo.  The holidays may be nearly over (for me, at least! My school reopens on 23rd August!), but I’m ready!  Thanks, ASAS, for another inspirational summer.

Money Where The Mouth Is

I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I’m following my Twitter feed and the news and seeing the same things that we are all seeing – real terms funding for students with additional needs has dwindled to crisis point and it doesn’t look set to improve.  No doubt, increased funding is absolutely necessary in order to ensure the best education… no, the safety, wellbeing and any education… for our SEND children and this sits within the wider context of a reduction in funding and resources for those with disabilities in adulthood and the crisis in the NHS.  It is all very bleak.  I saw, as I’m sure many reading this did, some head teacher speaking on the news saying that the last thing he’d want is to be turning SEND students away because the school can’t afford them.  Afford them?  What are schools for, if not for the children of their catchment?  Are we now openly operating a two tier system?  Why is SEND the subgroup of student it is so acceptable to discriminate against?

I agree that there’s a funding crisis.  There’s a funding issue in education in general.  But lack of funds is no more an excuse to not meet the needs of SEND students as it would be an excuse to not meet the needs of any student.  You still have to do what a school’s supposed to do.  Money isn’t the whole reason our schools aren’t inclusive and, as such, money would not solve the issue of poor inclusion in our schools.  Money helps (when doesn’t it!?) but it isn’t the whole answer.

“Money is only a tool.  It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.”
Ayn Rand

The first step in meeting the needs of your SEND students is not money but to stop seeing them as something different to the rest of your students.  As long as we see students with SEND as something different to students, children with disabilities as something different to children, and a group with different needs and rights to the rest of those we are teaching, we are discriminating against them.  All children need the same things – safety, wellbeing, nurture, their best outcomes, adult success (whatever that my look like!).  And all children have the same educational rights – to be taught by qualified teachers and access to an appropriate, quality, accountable and valued curriculum.  The budget and resources of the school – however tight those things may be – need to be used to provide these things equitably to all of the students.  We can’t use a label of ‘SEND’ as an excuse to exempt a child from any of this.

Actually, the lack of money being funnelled into SEND and adult disability provision is also because of this same issue.  It’s systemic, societal and entrenched.  How we treat SEND students throughout their education results in a) those children becoming adults who haven’t been given the best tools to be assertive, rights asserting adults and b) their non-SEND peers go on to perceive disability as ‘other’, someone else’s problem, and something that we use as an emotional crutch for ourselves as opposed to assuring proper societal equality and justice.  Then they become the decision makers, funding deciders, employers and head teachers of the next generation and perpetuate the same approach.

There’s a cycle that needs to be broken here, but it won’t be broken by money alone… the lack of proper funding is just a symptom or product of the actual issue that needs to be fixed.  In order for the policy makers and budget holders to make decisions that work for SEND children we need them to have grown up with an intrinsic understanding that this is needed and right.  We need young people with SEND to grow up to hold power in their lives and be participants in that decision making process.  We need to stop seeing some people as separate to the rest of society.

So, yes; I’m as worried about the financial crisis in SEND funding as the next SENCo.  I wouldn’t be turning down additional funding to support SEND students, or any student for that matter!  Money alone, though, isn’t the magic wand that will ensure true inclusion for our SEND students… but ensuring true inclusion for our SEND students through our attitudes towards disability, school culture, and having equality, equity and justice at the heart of our decision making might, eventually, solve the funding crisis.

“If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out!” Jonathan Winters

SEN Inclusion in Schools – There Aren’t ‘Children’ and ‘Special Needs Children’; just Children

The revolution will NOT have disabled access, just access for all.

Inclusion departments, SEN corridors, alternative pathways, exemptions from expectations, ‘disabled access at rear’, and even the SENCo themselves – all of these are artefacts of inclusion, representing a point on a journey, a journey towards justice in education for those with additional needs and disabilities.

They are all also examples of the ways we get the education system to work for children with these additional needs.

This is necessary, of course, because our education system existed before these children were included. And, with integration, and then the push for inclusion, children were brought into schools that had been designed – physically and systemically – without having taken their needs into account. Without having needed to.

And so, we created roles and rules to include them, and to protect their right to be included – and this is both good and right.

But it isn’t the end.

It isn’t justice.

Continue reading here:

https://www.teachwire.net/news/sen-inclusion-in-schools

Unlearn Everything

New teachers!

Have you thought about how you are going to ensure that your classroom is inclusive?  Have you found all those ‘E’s and ‘K’s on your registers?  Have you worked out what those letters mean for each child that has been assigned one?  Have you read the EHCPs, the IEPs, the passports and pen portraits?  Have you planned with your TAs?  Have you differentiated your lessons and individualised your resources?  Have you thought about how those ‘E’s and ‘K’s are going to eat into your time?  What about the rest of the class?  They need you too, right?

Remember! All teachers are teachers of SEND! (DfE SEND Code of Practice 0-25, 2015)

No?

Well you’d better get cracking the…

Just kidding. I have some good news!

Those ‘E’s and ‘K’s on your register.  Yep; the ones with all the paperwork…

They
are
just
kids.

Children, just like the rest of them.  Students, just like any student.

I’m not saying that you aren’t going to need to put in that little bit extra with those guys; you are!  But, trust me, the non-‘E and K’ kids are just as likely to throw you a curve ball as those kids are.

And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t read the EHCPs, IEPs etc, meet with your TAs and get some decent planning in place.  You really, really should.

But what I am going to say is this:

Unlearn everything (if anything!) you have been taught about inclusion.

There is no ‘us and them’.  There’s only us.

There is no SEND and non-SEND students.  They’re all just kids.  Complex, unique individuals, every single one of them.  Get all the information you can, get to know them personally, and appreciate them for who they are.  Not just the kids identified as ‘SEND’, but all of the kids.

Attitude is everything.

It is the first step and the bottom line of true inclusion.  If you see your class and then these other kids, then you can never be truly inclusive, no matter how many IEPs you read or worksheets you differentiate.  The class is made up equally of all the individuals in it.  Each student is just another kid who needs to get what they need to have.

FROM YOU.

The TAs, the SENCo, their teacher from last year, their parents (definitely speak with parents!), yes; they can help you.  But, ultimately, these kids are yours. There are many things that can make a great teacher, but getting it right for every child in your class is top of the list for feel good factor, surely!

I’m not saying it will be easy… but, if you’ve gone into teaching for the easy life then you have made a terrible, terrible error!

Those ‘E’s and ‘K’s probably do need additional and different, sure.  Maybe they do have a diagnosis, a bit of kit, or need a bit more time, or colour, or interactivity to get where they’re going, but they only need ‘inclusion’ if they weren’t included in the first place.

Children with ‘E’s and ‘K’s next to their name on the register represent a huge leap forward on the journey towards true inclusion, equality, equity and justice for those with disabilities.  But they also suffer because of being seen as other, ‘included’ and often marginalised.  We’ve come a long way, but we can do better… and change will not come if we wait for some other person and some other time.  We’re the people we have been waiting for.  We are the change that we seek.  That’s an Obama quote, that last bit; I take no credit for it, but the sentiment is relevant – we are responsible for making the changes that need to occur.

So, happy Teacher New Year!

Let’s make it a good one.

For everybody.

Splitting Hairs (part 2)

Thinking about the difference between ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ got me thinking about another hair splitting nuance that I believe is crucial to ensuring the right to education for students with additional needs; are we trying to achieve equality, equity, or… something else.

When I first started writing this blog I used the word ‘equality’, but later changed my mind and started using ‘equity’ instead. I might have changed my mind again now, but let’s just focus on these two for the time being.

Equality. (noun) The state or quality of being equal.

Equal. (adjective) As great as; the same as. Correspondence in quantity, degree, value, rank, or ability.

There are, I think, still some things to which I would apply the word ‘equality’. There should, or example, be an equal right to a high quality education for every child. But, if equality basically means that everyone gets the same (or is the same), then equality alone isn’t going to achieve that right for all of our children because some children will need more.

Equity. (noun) The quality of being fair or impartial; fairness; impartiality. Something that is fair and just.

At some point I switched from using ‘equality’ and started using ‘equity’; not everyone getting the same, but everyone getting what is fair and just… everyone getting what they need.

Say, for example, there are two people and they have one pie. One of those people has just eaten and the other is starving (you could interpret this as one is regularly well fed and one is not, or simply that one has had their most recent meal and the other is yet to have it; it makes a difference only to the extremeness of the example and not to the meaning).

Equality would give each of them half of the pie.

Equity would give each of them the amount of the pie that they need.

Of course, distribution of a resource is rarely this simple and the resource remains limited – if both were starving they’d get half each and both still be hungry. If there were ten hungry individuals they would get a tenth each and all still be hungry. The example, though, serves its purpose; is it equality or equity that gets those two people into a situation where both of them have achieved their entitlement to be fed? Which is kindest? Which is the most fair and just? I’m not saying there’s a clear cut answer to these questions but, for me, it is important to think about it anyway. Equality might be nicer, and it might also be easier – less decision making – but it doesn’t, I don’t think, represent justice for both of those people involved.

Justice. (noun) Just behaviour or treatment.

Just. (adjective) Based on or behaving according to what is morally right and fair.

Sometimes – usually, I think, when we are talking about rights and entitlements – we are trying to achieve equality; everyone gets the same. And sometimes – particularly when dealing with resources and actions – we are aiming for equity; everyone gets what they need.

We are always, though, aiming to achieve justice.

Our duty to achieve the entitlement to education for those identified as having special educational needs and/or disabilities is also our duty to achieve justice for a group who have been marginalised, disadvantaged and discriminated against and continue to be so.

Imagine, now, that there are three classes of thirty students in each – high, middle and low ability – and three equally experienced and successful teachers. It is okay, and necessary for the example to work, to make some assumptions about these three classes; where are the children likely to be most independent? Require the most support? What assumptions would you make about the behaviour in these three classes? Where would you expect to find students with EHCPs? With TAs? With additional literacy and numeracy added in as alternatives to the standard timetable? Each one of these three classes being taught by one of the three available teachers is equality but, realistically, does it provide every student with what they need in order to achieve their entitlement to a high quality education? You could put a TA into the lowest ability class to support an individual, subgroup within the class, or to help out with the class as a whole. One, or more, of the students – for either learning or behavioural reasons – could be withdrawn for extra literacy, numeracy or other intervention with TAs, HLTAs, or maybe a SENCo, in a SEND or inclusion department/area somewhere else in the school. But, if we are all agreed that ‘education’ looks a certain way – qualified teachers, certain subjects (i.e. EBacc) and schools divided into specialist areas – then removing a student from this (either physically or by buffering their access to it in situ) isn’t even maintaining their equality, never mind equity and certainly not justice.

How could these three classes, with the same budget (allowing for three teachers), be taught in a more equitable way? You could, for example, teach the higher and middle ability groups together with one teacher, and give both of the other teachers to the lower ability group. This would facilitate either 1:1 or small group intervention, or having two smaller groups, without compromising those students’ access to the agreed components of a high quality education. Another option would be to teach all three groups as one big group, lecture style, and have the two remaining teachers providing 1:1 and small group intervention and support to any student who needs it. No one being taught by non-specialists or non-teachers and no one being removed from the knowledge hub; this, I believe, is equity.

EEvNB

But is it justice? Is it enough?

For now, I think it will have to be. Curriculum and assessment, Ofsted and league tables mean that the barriers are there whether we like it or not – equal or equitable distribution of resources is the option that we have. That, however, doesn’t mean that we accept the current situation as the best we can do… it just means that we make the most of the current situation whilst on our journey to true justice for those who currently continue to be disadvantaged.

The second version of the ‘equality versus equity’ image I have included (below) as food for thought only!

EEvR

Another Brick In The Wall?

 


I once heard someone describe the inclusion of children with additional needs into mainstream schools as like trying to fit irregular shapes into square holes. And, to an extent, I agree. Describing our current approach to education as like slotting children into square holes is, I think, fair; it is basically a one-size-fits-all system. We have a formula that leads to a particular outcome – the currently agreed benchmark for academic success – and we cater for difference and diversity through add-ons, extensions and exemptions. Inclusion rooms, SEND departments, behaviour units, and gifted and talented programmes et cetera enable students who do not fit the mould to be in the building anyway, even if they are sitting outside of the systems that have, presumably, been put in place because they represent the best for children and young people. I do, though, have one major quibble with the analogy; I do not believe that any of the children really fit into the square holes. Children are complicated. All of them.
Click to read the rest of the article: http://www.globi-observatory.org/education-for-all-another-brick-in-the-wall/