Vulnerability vs Resilience

I once, as an experiment, removed each vulnerable subgroup of students, group by group, from a list of every student in the school. Special Educational Needs and Disability, New to English/English as an Additional Language, Looked After Children, Pupil Premium and Able, Gifted and Talented… and, in the end, I was left with a list of around 20 children – around 6% of our student population at the time – and I made three main observations from my findings:

  • The umbrella term ‘vulnerable’ actually covers the vast, vast majority of students for one reason or another.
  • With no ring-fenced money, designated co-ordinator, dedicated provision or column on the data spreadsheet, these 20 students were themselves pretty vulnerable.
  • The 20 children did not form an obviously connected cohort. They represented a broad range of abilities, attendance figures, behaviours and personalities. In fact, it was a right motley little gang.

My point is this; all children, by their very nature, are vulnerable. Some, of course, are more resilient than others… but that doesn’t mean that they’re resilient. They are vulnerable simply because they are children. The reality of using subgroups to identify vulnerabilities is that it helps with planning and organising but, actually, no grouping represents a homogenous selection of children. What’s more, children rarely fitly neatly into just one of these categories; they are complicated as well as vulnerable. Add to this mix the fallouts, confidence crisis’s, hormones, home hiccups, snow days and windy days, exhausted final weeks of term and out of practice first weeks back… and ‘vulnerable’ suddenly doesn’t seem to cut it as a category at all. The students we teach are children in our care and children are vulnerable. Full stop.

The opposite of vulnerability – resilience – is also a quality that all students possess, albeit in different measure and form. If it were so simple as ‘not vulnerable = resilient’ I would have very few resilient children!!! If it were so simple as ‘higher attaining = more resilient’ I wouldn’t spend so much of my time supporting the socio-emotional needs of my most able students. Furthermore, both of these oversimplifications rob our most vulnerable learners of the recognition they truly deserve. School can be bloody hard for any kid; imagine the resilience, determination and grit you would need to tackle it with a disability,  medical need, little grasp of the language, a problem in your home life… sometimes I think our most vulnerable learners are really our strongest. And anyone can go through a rough patch.

Managing the unique, finely balanced, and ever changing relationship between vulnerability and resilience that exists within each of our students is part of the skill of being a teacher, and the aspect of the role it impacts on most significantly is our role as managers of behaviour. High expectations, a strong behaviour management policy, and clarity and rigour of approach are, I think, fairly universal – at least in intention – across the education landscape. As is, I’m sure, the genuine desire to provide a truly inclusive education that is appropriate and fair for students with additional needs and/or vulnerabilities of any kind. But how is this achieved without either lowering our standards for some or having expectations that are out of reach for others? How do we achieve a behaviour management approach that demands the best from our students whilst being fair as well?

One of the issues, I think, is that some aspects of our approach increase with the ability of the students whilst other aspects decrease. Our expectation of their progress, their independence, and their aspirations, for example, tend to increase… but our personalisation, individualisation, and nurture all seem to decrease. But really, the high expectations challenge and academic rigour/quality we have for our most able and (perceived) resilient students should be the entitlement of all of our students. There are no students for whom a disability, additional need, or factor in their home life or background, should cause us to offer them a lesser quality or limited version of their entitlement to an education. There are no students for whom lower expectations are enough. And, furthermore, the level of nurture and care, support, individualisation/personalisation and consideration we offer our least able and (perceived) least resilient children – think of the level of personalisation (assess-plan-do-review, annual reviews, personalised packages and outside agency specialists) we give to our students with Statements or EHCPs – is the entitlement of all of our students. There are no children for whom being high ability, mature for their age or seemingly resilient means that they should have to cope with a less caring or more generic approach.

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I don’t, of course, mean that we should be bombarding our children with additional learning needs or developmental delays with timetables and courses that don’t suit them, or that we should be bringing in additional support and outside agencies for kids that don’t need it. What I mean is that we need to stop seeing children in terms of generic dichotomous divides – resilient/vulnerable, abled/disabled, high attaining/low attaining – and, instead, give them each equal access to everything that they need to access the best that we have to offer. Recognise each one of them as the unique and complex individual that they are; we are all the same insofar as we are all different.

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A more universally personalised – not ‘one size fits all’ but ‘one size fits one’ – approach doesn’t just benefit one of the traditionally recognised subgroups, but benefits every single student. For the lowest ability students in a school, so often relegated out of the main stream and into a SEN or inclusion corridor or classroom, with less qualified staff and less valued courses, it gives them the opportunities – academic and social – that we all recognise as a child’s entitlement but just don’t always seem to apply to our children with additional needs. And for our most able and highest attaining they’re given the nurture and individualisation that is the right of all children; just because a child can cope doesn’t mean they should have to. The bell curve, though, tells us that these two extremes account for only a small minority of our school population. All those children in the middle, including all those who fall into no subgroup at all, will also, of course, benefit from getting the best of what’s afforded to those at each extreme of the cohort. And this, of course, is all an oversimplification itself; many of the subgroups and budgets we have for our students can include children from anywhere on the ability spectrum and a child being high or low ability doesn’t mean that they are in the same spot on that bell curve for every subject or skill.  The only answer, surely, is to have schools that provide the structure, nurture and personalisation that enables all children to meet the highest of expectations.

 

Splitting Hairs (part 1)

I recently received the following comment (about my blogpost, God Damn It, You’ve Got To Be Kind) on Twitter:

NiceVKind

I never said ‘nice’; I said ‘kind’. They are not the same thing! I argued my case and was accused of splitting hairs… but it does matter; sometimes, it will be appropriate to be nice and, at other times, less so.

You must always be kind.

Nice (adjective): pleasing; agreeable; delightful; amiably pleasant; kind.

Kind (adjective): of a good or benevolent nature of disposition, as a person; having, showing, or proceeding from benevolence.

Sometimes, the nicest thing – the thing that will be most pleasing and agreeable to the other – is not the kindest thing. Sometimes, the kindest thing – the most benevolent and good thing – will not be very nice, pleasant or agreeable. For example, letting a student doodle in their book instead of getting on with their work might be nice, but it is not kind; it will not help them grow and learn. Telling them to stop is the right thing to do, even if it isn’t pleasing or agreeable for them in that moment. It can, of course, be done in a nicer or less nice way. You could shout something sarcastic across the classroom, humiliating them in front of their friends and peers; “Oi! You’re aiming for an A* in GCSE timewasting, are you!?’ Or, you could subtly gesture of give them a quiet 1:1 message; ‘Your last homework was fantastic, you’re really improving. Let’s keep that up, eh?’ Getting picked up on an unwanted behaviour is never, no matter how it is done, going to be a nice experience for the student even though it is the kindest thing to do in terms of their learning and development. And, of course, nice and kind often overlap. This doesn’t mean that they are the same.

I think this, fairly subtle, difference between the meanings of ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ is particularly crucial when thinking about our students who experience their education through the filter of inclusion.

Are our students who are identified as SEND more susceptible to being treated with niceness, rather than kindness, than our non-SEND students? Does this explain why they are very often given the easier option – easier for them and easier for us – instead of being subject to the same high expectations as their peers?

Education – both academic and to become a good citizen – is a child’s right. For them to achieve this, we have to be kind; the kindest thing to do is to facilitate them to obtain their right to education and successful adulthood. To achieve this, sometimes we will need to be firm, sometimes there will need to be consequences, sometimes we will need to nurture them and sometimes we will just need to tell them stuff. Sometimes we will need to be nice. But what if, without being conscious of it, we don’t see education as a right for some children? What if, for some children, we see their right as the right to be included and that’s enough?

An underlying problem with our current approach to inclusion is that we don’t see education as a right for children with additional needs; we see inclusion as their right. And this enables us to be nice and to take the easier option when, really, the kindest thing to do… and the thing that will achieve them their true entitlement; a great education… would be to subject all students to the same high expectations, rigour and standards (the standards we have agreed constitute a good education – the curriculum, QTS, school systems and structures) as each other.

This is, maybe, why our students identified as SEND can be taught primarily by people who don’t have the qualifications or quality assurances we have identified as a necessary aspect of ensuring a child’s right to a quality education. It is why, after designing schools and systems aimed at ensuring a child’s access to their right to an education, we place our children with additional needs just outside of these systems, in SEND or inclusion areas, outside of our expectations for behaviour and for progress, and sometimes even away from their entitlement to a diverse and full curriculum including enhancements such as trips.  And, because for them we are directing our efforts at ensuring they are included and not necessarily educated, we celebrate inclusion instead of education as a success. Instead of judging a school’s inclusiveness on how many of their SEND students make or exceed expected progress or go on to be happy, successful, contributing adults (This can, of course, take many forms! However, having a job that you enjoy, pays the bills, and enables you to contribute to society, is a good way to do it. Less than 1 in 5 learning disabled adults are in employment, and only half of disabled adults overall.) they are judged on how many TAs they’ve got or how big their SEND or inclusion area is. Having a SEND/inclusion area where TAs and the SENCo provide extra literacy and numeracy and vulnerable students can escape to might be nice but, based on statistical and anecdotal evidence of ‘included’ students as adults, it isn’t kindest. It isn’t enabling them to access their right to a great education and a fulfilling and contributing adulthood. Inclusion is the practical manifestation of bringing a more diverse range of abilities and needs into an education system that wasn’t designed with them in mind and, until we redesign education to work for every child, we will continue to let children down, no matter how nice we are being to them.

END OF PART 1.

We All Will Learn

The use of double staffing to ensure a high-quality learning experience for all students

Double Staffing: the timetabling of two qualified, subject specialist teachers to a single class, giving them joint and equal responsibility for the students’ outcomes.

My article on meeting the needs of ALL students, including those with additional needs and disabilities, in a school with no teaching assistants or withdrawal interventions:
http://blogs.dixonsta.com/

(plus many more great articles about our unique Dixons Trinity Academy approach!)

SEND and Social Justice

I was recently asked by @SENcollusion to share my thoughts on the following questions/themes for a chapter she’s writing for an upcoming book;  the Handbook of Disabled Children’s Childhood Studies, edited by Katherine Runswick-Cole et al. Of course I was happy to oblige! I’m always happy to share my thoughts and concerns about the state of inclusion. The questions/themes posed, and my responses, are reproduced below. Thanks for thinking of me, @SENcollusion; I hope it was of some use 🙂

  • Why do SEND issues so rarely enter the mainstream education debate when so many pupils have identified SEND?
  • Commentary around SEND is usually narrative and rarely consists of political analysis of how these issues fit with the wider government agenda.
  • Disability rarely gets a mention in broader education policy, whereas race and gender tend to be included. Education secretaries and their shadows don’t seem to engage on the issue; why is disability sidelined and not mainstreamed?

For me, many of the barriers faced by those with disabilities – both in education and in society as a whole – stem from the same, chronically overlooked problem; the current educational inclusion paradigm is actually a form of internal segregation and does not represent social justice. I believe that the common artefacts of inclusion as we know it – TAs, withdrawal intervention, SENCo’s and SEN/inclusion departments, corridors, rooms etc. – all result in a segregation of space, service, expectation and experience. Ultimately, schools are designed to get the best out of and for their students; what does it mean for a child to sit even slightly outside of that design? How all of this came about seems obvious to me. The education system as we know it evolved without the need to consider the wide spectrum of abilities and disabilities we now have the opportunity to embrace. High infant mortality of babies born with additional needs, education being optional and elitist, and then the concept of the uneducable child… educational inclusion as we know it is a recent phenomenon; 1980’s+. Integration, as it was, and now ‘inclusion’, is actually a series of strategies, add-ons, annexes and afterthoughts that are in place to try and get SEND students into schools that were not designed for them. It is a step on the journey towards social justice for those with disabilities, that’s all. We seem to have hit a brick wall on our journey to achieve the real end result, though! It is this stagnation and failure to complete the journey that elicits many of the problems faced by children and adults with disabilities, and could begin to answer the questions you have raised. I will try to outline the main points, and links to your research, here:

  • Those with additional needs and/or disabilities are denied a high quality education. I recently read a statistic that only 6.6% of learning disabled adults are in employment, but 69% want to be. Anyone who thinks that only 6.6% of learning disabled adults are capable of working need to get out and meet a greater range of people. So what does this statistic mean? I’m sure that, if asked, more than 6.6% of schools would claim that their SEND provision is effective and successful, but clearly it is not preparing those young people to become successful adults. And how could it? If we value QTS why would it be acceptable for some students – our highest need students – to be taught by those without it? And TAs… unless the TAs going to be with them in the job interview, or on the station platform when the train’s cancelled, that can only ever be short term solution.
  • What does the current ‘internal-segregation-as-inclusion’ paradigm tell SEND students about themselves? What does it teach a child about their place in society if they always sit slightly outside of the systems? Especially if ‘their space’ is inferior in quality, such as learning spaces away from the knowledge hubs and unqualified, non-specialist staff. And especially if that segregation instils an ‘us and them’ or even culture of fear between the SEND and non-SEND students, such as inclusion areas (oh, the irony) and ‘safe spaces’ for vulnerable students.
  • By segregating students with additional needs and/or disabilities, what are we teaching our non-SEND students? What are we telling them is the right way to support diversity and vulnerability in our communities? That it is someone else’s problem? And, surely, we are denying them the opportunity to value and learn about diversity and what it can bring to the community. These students will go on to be the potential employers of ability diversity.

In combination, these unintentional by-products of our current approach to inclusion perpetuate the unequal society paradigm that exists way beyond childhood and education. We inadvertently teach our SEND students that they are ‘other’ and should expect less. What’s more, we deny them the tools to fight that situation. We teach our non-SEND students that disability is someone else’s problem, we deny them the opportunity to experience the joy of diversity (disability inequality is an injustice for all of us) and we make it look like this approach is a benevolence; a kindness… something that should make them feel good about themselves. Let me explain that last point a little more thoroughly…

I believe that a big contribution to our reluctance to move on from this step on the journey towards justice is that we have somehow persuaded ourselves that this approach is a good thing. Like having an inclusion department with a load of TAs, withdrawal interventions and escape from the mainstream is a benevolence. Like we are doing those with disabilities a favour by putting a ramp up to a side entrance so they can get in to our able spaces. It’s patronising. The school with the biggest SEND departments is the least inclusive, not most. The building with the most big yellow wheelchair silhouettes slapped all over everything should not be celebrated for all their high profile segregation. The most socially just space is the one with no inclusion or access strategies in place, but where people with all levels of physical and/or learning ability can access it anyway.

I should probably get back to the questions you actually asked.

Why does SEND have such a low profile in educational discourse, political debate and in the more general drive for a fairer, more just society? In my opinion, it is because we teach each upcoming generation – inadvertently – that segregation of SEND is not just acceptable but a cause for celebration and self-congratulation, and we deny our children the information and experiences that would equip them to fight this approach. Each generation become adults thinking about SEND issues as someone else’s problem, or (as a person with a disability), believing that they should be grateful for the add-ons and afterthoughts they get… and without the quality education that would facilitate change anyway.

Women and non-white ethnic groups have also been denied access to a proper education, have had their adversaries miseducated to their detriment, and have had their voices stifled, even criminalised, in their fight for justice, this is true. It cannot, though, be denied that a bigger proportion of the group that are our focus here have additional cognitive and communication challenges that further disadvantage them. In order for those with disabilities to move forward on their journey towards justice we will rely more heavily on changing the hearts and minds of the ‘able’ community; to be able to make a distinction between benevolent segregation with the label of inclusion and real equity and justice for everyone in society. The power to achieve this lies within education.

And I firmly believe that it can be done! I work in a mainstream secondary school in a challenging and diverse inner city area. We have no TAs, never withdraw from lessons, and have no SEND/inclusion department or area. Our SEND register and disadvantaged students match the progress of their peers in all subjects and in all year groups (we have y7-10 – start up free school – but have all assessments externally moderated). In addition, SEND and vulnerable students are proportionally represented in attendance, behaviour and rewards data. I’m not saying it’s easy, it is not! The challenges are myriad, not least the issue of SEND’s low profile at ITT. But also, it is not optional. Justice for vulnerable people in society is a right and responsibility for all of us.

A good SENCo works their way out of a job: Annual Review

It has, this month, been one whole year since my first ever blog post and declaration that I wholeheartedly disapprove of the existence of my own job, and would be working to render my own role in the school unnecessary and, hopefully – eventually, non-existent. It seems like a good time to consider what progress has been made so far. So, to start with, a little recap; what, exactly, is my problem with the SENCo? Well, as an interim measure, nothing really. Within the current social and political context, confined by the opportunities and limitations of the education system as it stands, and working collaboratively to meet the expectations of children and the families of children with additional educational needs and disabilities, the SENCo role is a crucial one. Children with additional educational needs and disabilities have achieved the entitlement to receive a high quality and inclusive education and it is the SENCo – along with other stakeholders – who is at the forefront of actually building that entitlement into a reality. But, just as the presence of a builder still hanging around, beavering away, after the building has been completed would either be unnecessary or an indication that the structure is not stable, the SENCo should not need to be there once true inclusion has been achieved, and we need to work towards that goal. The presence of a SENCo represents the need for children with additional educational needs and disabilities to have an advocate in order to ensure that their needs are being met; a truly inclusive school would meet the needs of all of its students on the same basis. The modern education system evolved before the rights of people with physical and learning disabilities did and, as a result, evolved without the need to meet the needs of children with additional educational needs. That, alongside the impact of Ofsted and league tables, has meant that our enlightenment and realisation that all children should be entitled to a high quality and inclusive education has left us with a bit of a conundrum; inclusion is the umbrella term for all the ways we have come up with to get children to fit into a system that was not designed for them. For true inclusion – equality in education – to be achieved, we need a system that was designed with all in mind;  a school designed to meet the needs of the least able and most vulnerable would eliminate the need for inclusion, enable the students who are simply coping to thrive, and these – along with the students who were thriving anyway – to be the architects of a society that values diversity and does not accept side entrances, inferior and intermittent services, low expectations and so on as ‘enough’ for people with disabilities.  Not only does the current system foster… no, force… the internal-segregation-as-inclusion paradigm that we have come to accept, it actively celebrates it. Having a room in your school where the lowest ability and most vulnerable students are taught literacy and numeracy by non-specialist and/or unqualified members of staff, and where those students can come to hide from the perils of the school corridors and communal spaces, is not equality; it is denying those students access to their entitlement. Their entitlement to a high quality education. To be a valued part of their community. To feel like a contributor. The least able child should be with the most qualified member of staff. The whole school should be a safe space for vulnerable children because all children have the potential to be vulnerable, simply by virtue of being children.

Have we made any progress towards achieving this goal? Yes, of course! We are a school without a SEND department (or any alternative name such a department might be given)… we have no SEND area or corridor, no inclusion rooms, withdrawal interventions or teaching assistants… where the students on the SEND register match, and often exceed, the progress made by their peers. As, or even more, importantly; we have no safe spaces for vulnerable students and we do not have students who need to be escorted around the building by a member of staff. All of our students move around the building safely, as is their right. And, before you ask, yes; we have a diverse and wide ability range intake of students. Our SEND Support and EHCP/Statement numbers match national averages and our ‘fair banding’ admissions policy ensures a broad ability base. We have students who would have a TA if they went to another school, students with physical, sensory, and/or medical needs, students who had been excluded from primary school due to their challenging behaviour… they are all here like we knew they would be; we were thinking about them from the start.

All of our students’ learning needs are met within the academic departments. Literacy interventions are run by the English department and numeracy interventions by the maths department, either within timetabled maths lessons or before or after school; we don’t withdraw students from other areas of their timetable. Intervention and support, including when it is on a 1:1 basis, is delivered by subject specialist, qualified teachers. We use ‘double staffing’ of our lowest ability group in each year to facilitate this in English, maths, science, humanities and MFL.

All of our students’ non-academic needs – pastoral, health and wellbeing, safeguarding, physical and sensory needs, socio-emotional development, mental health, outside agency involvement, behaviour, and probably a load more stuff I have forgotten – are managed by one department and, because all of our students are climbing their own personal mountain in order to succeed at university or a real alternative, thrive in a top job and have a great life, we call it Mountain Rescue. Mountain Rescue consists of the Senior Vice Principal, the year heads, me, and a team of mentors and key workers and we… well, we do whatever it takes for as long as it takes, when they need it and because they need it, in order to support their journey up the mountain. Any student can go to Mountain Rescue for any reason and, because of our team approach, we can quickly share information and put provision in place to meet their unique needs, not because they are SEND or LAC or PP or any other sub-category of child that might be in use; just because they need it.

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As is good and expected practice for an Annual Review, I should probably set some SMART targets. By October half term I hope to have developed and completed a set of useful and easy to use documentation to support, quality assure, and facilitate feedback for the support provided by Mountain Rescue. By Christmas I want to have identified and documented all the different models of effective use of double staffing that are being used in the academic departments. And, longer term, I would like the Mountain Rescue team to include therapists and other professionals such as and Educational Psychologist, life coach, Speech and Language Therapist, and nurse. In the meantime though, I am happy for things to continue to develop as they are – a school without ‘inclusion’ – and just be happy that I still have a job to go to!

We’re gonna need a lot more cannons…

Well, the blog has been somewhat neglected for a couple of months and I’m not even sure why. I’ve been busy doing… the usual, day-to-day stuff. I dunno; life takes over, no? The unplanned hiatus has, however, given me chance to step back and take stock. Within the four walls of my own school I feel like a lot has been achieved. But speaking to others from within and beyond education, and when I visit other schools, I am reminded that we have got things going a bit different at DTA; and now we even have data to back our claims up. Beyond those four walls I have received plenty of support, kind words, encouragement, and good constructive feedback too, but it does feel like just that; words not action. And y’know what they say about that… Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen a good few things that feel like a step in the right direction. When I say or think, “ooh! that’s like my way of doing things!”, I claim no causation or responsibility for it, but anything that I see as a step closer to equality and true inclusion feels like another soldier stepping up to the cause. And it’s pretty rare! I still mainly see the perpetuation – even innovation – of segregatory and discriminatory systems. The received wisdom, still, is to ‘include’ vulnerable groups by isolating them within their supposed community, labeling and segregating them, and educating them from behind a wall that, although built for their own protection, ultimately serves to block their access to a quality education whilst teaching them – and their non-segregated peers – that behind a barrier is where they belong. Destroying a child’s ambitions and opportunities with good intentions is still destroying their ambitions and opportunities. This, it turns out, only becomes more frustrating and infuriating as I watch from within as an alternative starts to fall neatly in to place around me. Seen as though I am not, apparently/sadly/thankfully (delete as appropriate), the DfE and able to instigate an overnight education overhaul, I will just have to continue to plug away at getting it how I want it in my own setting. And talking about it. Incessantly. No use throwing yourself at a brick wall, but we can – myself and all those other little foot soldiers of change – keep chipping away at the bottom of it. I’d like to blow it to smithereens! But we would need a lot more cannons…

I do most of my thinking (and loud, uninhibited singing) in the car on the way to and from school. And it was, whilst listening to Cannons by the Kaiser Chiefs and thinking about blowing up walls with medieval artillery, that I remembered that I have a blog and I should probably write some stuff on it. So, with that as the spur, it seems like a good time to ponder a couple of the recurring criticisms of my approach to inclusion that I have received. So…

Common criticism number one: yeah, it’s a good idea but it can’t be done. My Utopian vision of an inclusive education system – smalls schools, zero segregation, no stigma attached to special schools, no blind drive for inclusion as an under-one-roof provision – is woefully unattainable. Actually, I agree(ish) with this… it certainly doesn’t seem to be in immediate… or even intermediate… reach, and no individual one of us (to whom it matters) has that degree of control. But, we can each make a difference in our own sphere. I can’t perpetuate a system that isn’t fair and doesn’t work, so I’m trying something else… bloody hell; the outcomes for vulnerable groups, like SEN-D in mainstream, can’t get any worse, can they? I aren’t saying that I’ve found the answer, and I aren’t saying that all schools should be like my school, necessarily; I definitely advocate diversity and choice. But, come on now; what’s sticking us to the existing system? Is it easier? Definitely not for the SENCo! My approach is, hopefully (argh! not hopefully! I love my job!), going to result in there being no need for a SENCo. For teachers? Maybe, i suspect. Although, surely no-one goes into teaching because they’re looking for an easy life! Is it because we have consciously or sub-consciously written those kids off anyway? None of those reasons are good enough.

Critical criticism number two: my Utopian vision of a truly inclusive education system is actually intrinsically exclusionary. Well, that really depends on how you define ‘inclusion’ for the purposes of the educational discourse. If, for you, ‘inclusion’ means educating all of the children in the same building – the local comprehensive – then, yeah; no, that is not what I’m aiming for at all. I mean, it sounds great… but, in order to ensure every child had a peer group big enough to ensure avoidance of isolation within the community whilst still having as much choice as their wider peer group, the school would have to be HUGE! And I just aren’t down with that. Every child deserves to be educated in an environment where they’re known and valued. Where their contribution is known and valued… where a subtle change in their demeanor – which could indicate that they got out of bed the wrong side that morning or that their little world came crashing down around them that weekend – is noticed by the people they walk past on their way in to the building, possibly long before they’re sat in front of their teacher or their form tutor. For the lucky vast majority of children school is the only other place, aside from home, where they’re guaranteed to be; when things go wrong at home they need to be visible – really visible – at school. I was recently (fairly recently??? It feels like a yesterday I had ten years ago) lucky enough to attend @ERA_tweet ‘s inclusion unconference in London. It was so refreshing and inspiring to be in a room full of people on the same page but for all different reasons and I returned to Bradford bolstered and ablaze… I’d heard a lot of stuff that hit home, but I’d also heard one thing that I did not agree with. Mainstream schools, it was suggested, are designed for neat little box shaped children but children with additional needs are much more complex shapes and do not fit into the neat little box shaped holes. Actually, I kinda agree with it so far and, to be fair, this is where the actual metaphor ended. But, as usual, I can extend a metaphor far beyond it’s useful lifespan and into territory unnecessary and unasked for. They can, these complex shapes, be forced painfully into a box shaped hole anyway, or have a shape somewhat closer to theirs carved out for them somewhere within the school (but in their special hole they must stay), or they can be educated elsewhere; special school, PRU, home schooled, et cetera. I agree with this too. I don’t, however, believe that there are actually any neat little box shaped children. Every child is their own unique, complicated, usually bonkers, ever-changing shape. the real problem is that schools have been designed for boxes when actually they should be like a particularly crazy expanse of crazy paving, with perpetually wet concrete. the main differential between schools is their most recent Ofsted report and, apart from that, they’re pretty generic. Outstanding/Good/Requires Improvement/Inadequate and mainstream/special; half of those combinations imply that the school is not meeting the basic expectations of being a school, and a different half are unfairly stigmatised as uninclusive because they cater to a specific need-type a child might experience. So we are dealing with a system wherein a child with a complex speech, language and communication need attends their local comprehensive school where they experience segregation, potentially bullying, and little learning because that is deemed more inclusive… meanwhile, a parent is faced with the choice of sending their musically gifted year 6 child to a school with music specialist status, with all of the associated facilities, or a sports specialist school, with all the trappings that the association affords. The sports specialist school is Ofsted ‘outstanding’ and the music school is in ‘special measures’. Something’s gone wrong… but it isn’t an SEN-D issue; it’s an all children issue.

So I would suggest a system made up of schools designed to meet the needs of a wide range of unique, important, ever-changing children-shapes. A system made up of schools that are all doing what schools are supposed to be doing (Ofsted call it ‘outstanding’, but Ofsted isn’t the reason to do it that way!), and each offering something that sets them apart, so parents and students have real choice. If that isn’t inclusion… well, I’m okay with that. We’ll call it something else (education?). And, if it isn’t immediately, intermediately or (gasp!) ever attainable? To me, it’s non-optional; we’re gonna need a lot more cannons.

Want to be part of it?

Want to work in a school where teachers can teach and all children learn?

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Superstructures: SEN-D and whole school behaviour management systems

NB – this is my stream of consciousness response to this post by my colleague here at DTA and this post by a fellow SENCo in a different school. It started life in the comments sections but things got out of hand…

I’m going to start with a question: if we design a behaviour management system to ensure learners can learn and teachers can teach, and that students are supported to do the right thing and be the best that they can be, why would it be acceptable for any child to sit outside of that system? Don’t we want these same things for our SEN-D and vulnerable students? Equally, don’t our perceived non-vulnerable students also deserve our guidance, tolerance and flexibility? There should be no one above the system and no one beneath it; it has to work for everyone. And so we are back to this idea of ‘true inclusion’; a school fit for purpose for all of its students. There is no ‘children/SEN-D children’ dichotomy; there are just children. None of them arrive in our classrooms as a tabula rasa and all of them have individual needs of some kind; some more challenging, or longer term, than others. Any systems that are intrinsically exclusionary, i.e. designed in a way that means some children sit outside of it, foster a community based on internal segregation and an ‘us and them’ mentality. It implies that there are lower expectations for some students’ behaviour. It creates grey areas in which children are more likely to get things wrong and some students may feel a sense of injustice if rules apply to some and not others. It isn’t fair, and it certainly isn’t equality. In short, a fair behaviour management system treats every student the same whilst, at the same time, acknowledging that every student is an individual. Every student.

So, I have been prompted to consider how the behaviour management system in operation in my own school corresponds with my ethos on inclusion – true inclusion – and the equality revolution. Ofsted described behaviour at DTA as ‘exemplary’ and highlighted our values driven approach, rigorously upheld systems and culture of mutual respect, as the reasons behind this. Nevertheless, I often find myself explaining and justifying our behaviour management system as it is perceived to be excessively strict – the phrase ‘military boot camp’ has been used more than once – and particularly unfair on our lowest ability and most vulnerable students; but this simply isn’t true. Allow me to explain:

  • It isn’t revolutionary. We expect students to be in school and on time every day, dressed appropriately and with the right equipment, meet deadlines, work hard (on task behaviour) and be polite and respectful (including zero tolerance on answering back). That’s it!
  • It is routine based. The school day is highly structured and runs like clockwork, and this supports students – all of them – to meet our high expectations. The structures and routines have safety nets built in; there are lots of opportunities for students to be proactive and autonomous in resolving any issues that arise.
  • It is values driven. Our core values (hard work, trust and fairness) and academy drivers (mastery, autonomy and purpose) underpin every policy implemented, lesson taught and decision made. These six words (seven  words?!) are part of the common vocabulary of the academy – staff and students – and give meaning to our high expectations for both behaviour and learning.
  • We do what we say we are going to do. The line has been drawn and we stick to it. If you start bending the rules or making exceptions it creates a grey area in which students aren’t sure whether something is acceptable or not, teacher authority is undermined, and both staff and students may experience a sense of injustice if they’re working hard at something and others are ‘getting away with’ not bothering!
  • Restorative practice is an expectation. If a student fails to meet one of those basic expectations (and also fails to respond to the aforementioned ‘safety nets’ that are built into our routines and structures) they will be given a ‘correction’; a 30 minute, same day, after school detention. This isn’t a punishment but an opportunity for a student to reflect on the core values and academy drivers, and how they can move forward from the situation successfully. There is an expectation for the teacher that issued the correction to be a part of that process by ensuring that the student was given opportunity to avoid the correction, that they fully understand why the correction was issued, by discussing ways forward and by repairing their relationship with the student so that future lessons are not affected. This conversation could take place at the end of the lesson, during the correction itself or at break or lunch time… and it turns a one-size-fits-all system into something else entirely; a one-size-fits-one system.

This is what I would call a superstructure; a whole school policy/system that is suitable for the whole school, and a win for true inclusion! Talking about how behaviour is managed for our vulnerable learners is to talk about how behaviour is managed for all of our learners because the system was designed with all in mind. Accordingly, to talk about the system from a non-INCo perspective is to talk about how it works for all students, including the most vulnerable. For a succinct, honest and truly inclusive non-INCo perspective on this same topic, from another DTA insider, please click here. And, for an example of how one school is approaching inclusion from an entirely different angle, please click here. My thoughts on the latter are posted in the comments section at the bottom of the post.

And the IN department remains instrumental at the ‘safety net’ stage of the process.

So I get to keep my job.

🙂