The statement ‘all children are entitled to an education’ is an easy one to make, and certainly one the majority of people can agree on.
Unfortunately, we are living in a time where the proportion of students who are from disadvantaged families, minority ethnic groups, or are registered special educational needs and disabled (SEND) students, continues to increase and the barriers and issues they experience with learning and school environments are becoming increasingly clear. More needs to be done to ensure all students are included and have access to a quality education.
There is an international commitment to securing more inclusive education systems to promote lifelong opportunities for all children. In the UK, The British Council is of the belief that the inclusion of children and young people into the regular education system is ‘an entitlement and a fundamental human right regardless of their gender, ethnicity, ability, language of choice, socio-economic background, health or medical condition’.
We couldn’t agree more! This blog post aims to provide teachers and schools with some guidance on how to make their classrooms more inclusive, and for parents to take note to encourage their own children to promote inclusivity with their peers.
What is inclusivity?
By definition inclusivity is the fact of including all types of people, things or ideas and treating them all fairly and equally. Therefore, inclusive education is education that includes everyone, with non-disabled, ethnic minorities, different genders and SEND students, learning together and adapting processes in mainstream schools, colleges and universities.
Why is inclusive education important?
Inclusive education is so important because it recognises and appreciates diversity in the community, looking at the needs of individual students rather than as a whole, meaning no one becomes excluded or left out because of their identity.
Having an inclusive education system is crucial for diminishing inequalities and changing discriminatory attitudes towards particular groups of people. Children’s first interactions and relationships that they will remember, besides from their own family, will come from school. By enabling the development of social relationships and interactions with students of diverse backgrounds it is likely that a sense of respect and understanding of one another will be built.
SEND students and inclusion
With around 240 million children worldwide living with disabilities it is crucial that all children are given the quality education they deserve to develop their skills and reach their full potential. Sadly, there are numerous barriers to learning for children with SEND, as well as for those who experience discrimination for their race, nationality and gender.
Various research has been carried out across the UK to see how inclusive our schools are across the country, the results speak volumes about how much work needs to be done to create an equal and inclusive environment for SEND students.
Of the 350,000 SEND students in the UK only a small percentage are permitted to attend a special school that focuses solely on their needs and requirements. With the majority of SEND students attending mainstream schools it is important that schools have the right procedures in place to meet each individual's complex needs.
Sadly, this is not common practice. School curriculums and resources often fail SEND students by not being accessible, or adjusted to their requirements. Inevitably this hinders their learning experience, pushing the attainment gap wider apart.
Ethnic minority groups and inclusion
The UK education system has considerably changed over the last 20 years, seeing consistent improvements in encouraging inclusive education - particularly for those of ethnic minorities. Despite the positive attainment patterns of a number of ethnic minority groups, and the academic success of many individual pupils, as a whole the attainment figures for several Black and Mixed ethnicities are below national averages and often decline as students progress through school.
Unconscious bias has been prevalent in many school settings for a long period of time, and still is in many countries across the world. It is a term used to describe the associations and assumptions we hold outside our conscious awareness and control. The quick judgments and assessments we make are based on a generalised idea about the group to which a person belongs to.
In an educational setting unconscious bias can often affect both the teacher and the student, if a teacher has unconscious bias towards one or some of their students it will severely impact their attitude and behaviour towards them. They may have lower expectations of the students' learning abilities, which in turn will disengage the student from learning due to a lack of belief and motivation from the teacher.
Gender and inclusion
While the issues that SEND students and ethnic minority students face will affect both girls and boys, other barriers to education can apply only and specifically to girls. Subject choices are still gendered and gender stereotypes around careers are impacting how students select their options for the future.
Certain phrases like ‘She’s good at maths for a girl’ are commonly used, and whilst it might not appear as a discriminatory statement, it is one that influences the perception of a girls’ education. These kinds of assumptions and expectations can cause a girl to withdraw from learning or participating to their full potential.
Gender stereotypes around how boys should behave and feel are also extremely prevalent in schools today, with the common statement that ‘boys don’t cry’ or that they shouldn’t take part in dance or drama as a subject because it would make them appear ‘gay’. Boys should be encouraged to feel their emotions freely, and they take any career path they desire without feeling as though they will be labelled for it.
The impact of being put into these categories persists into adulthood, affecting their mental health, aspirations, self esteem, poverty and ultimately their employability.
What does inclusivity mean for schools?
With the global aim of making education fully inclusive and accessible, schools have a major part to play. The school environment and teaching staff are ultimately responsible for making each and every student feel included and valued by creating a welcoming and diverse educational environment.
Schools are able to build confidence in their students, allowing all students to mix and make friends with one another is a great start to building self-confidence, particularly for SEND students who often struggle with low self-esteem.
A fully inclusive school would also see a huge improvement in communication skills in their students, integrating SEND students in the classroom and not segregating them will enable both their classmates and their teacher to gain a better understanding of their behaviours and needs.
Benefits of an inclusive school
Students gain social skills:
Inclusion encourages students to mix with other students who they otherwise would not, which helps to create diverse friendships that enrich the lives of all of the students.
Fewer absences and behavioural issues:
When teachers take the time to understand why SEND students may behave in certain ways it helps them to provide a solution to avoid these behaviours, rather than exclusions for disruptions which then leads to more rebellious behaviours. Having good relationships with their peers and the teachers will boost a students self-esteem and help to minimise behavioural issues that cause disruption.
Great tolerance, understanding and respect by students:
Students who are not usually excluded in education would highly benefit from an inclusive education system. Learning about the diversity of others would teach them valuable life skills such as tolerance, understanding and respect for others.
What are some of the barriers to inclusion?
Attitudes and prejudices
One of the biggest barriers to achieving inclusion in education is negative attitudes and prejudices held by individuals against particular groups of people. These attitudes may be a generational influence but they should not be carried on into education.
Inadequate policies and legalities
The Equality Act that came into force in 2010 made it unlawful for any education provider to discriminate between pupils on grounds of race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, pregnancy and maternity, and religion or belief. However, this policy does not stop the segregation of SEND students, or genders in schools, nor does it avoid the temporary or permanent exclusion of SEND students for disciplinary reasons.
Restricted resources and support
It is more likely that a school is deemed to be successfully inclusive when it is in a more affluent area with students from wealthier backgrounds. The schools that have high numbers of disadvantaged students will often struggle to be fully inclusive due to a lack of resources and support to guide them in the right direction.
Most mainstream schools will use the same curriculum that they have been using for many years, with only slight updates each school year. The problem with this is that society has drastically changed over the last two decades. The school curriculum our children are being taught should reflect these changes to ensure old stereotypes are diminished and respect for all students is paramount.
One thing that is abundantly clear is the lack of specialist teachers to appropriately deal with the complex needs of SEND students. Mainstream teacher training doesn’t focus enough on how to deal with disruptive or difficult behaviours shown by SEND students, leaving teachers unequipped to provide proper support to their students.
Strategies schools can implement to be more inclusive:
Clearly define a standard of behaviour expected by all students
The first thing schools should consider is their school ethos, ensuring that inclusivity is at the heart of it all. Schools must define a standard of behaviour that will be expected as standard by all students, and is consistently enforced throughout the school year. This standard of behaviour should be to respect all teachers and students regardless of their looks, learning disabilities or race.
When a student misbehaves ensure teachers and assistants deal with the situation sensitively
With SEND students making up the majority of students excluded from school (7 out of 10 excluded have SEND) for disruptive or bad behaviour it is crucial that teachers and assistants are better equipped to deal with the situation sensitively.
Teachers should be making a conscious effort to form relationships with all of their students to better understand why they behave the way they do and what triggers them. It is important that teachers remember that no two SEND students are the same, even with the same diagnosis they will all have different behavioural and learning issues that will require understanding and encouragement to overcome.
Ensure there are numerous ways that students voices can be heard and valued
If there’s one thing that will encourage inclusivity in education, it’s ensuring that all students feel valued. A big barrier students face is a lack of confidence and low self-esteem as a result of being excluded from certain situations. Schools can help to avoid this by encouraging students to raise their concerns and actually take the time to fix the issue by providing a resolution that makes the students feel they have been heard.
There are several activities that schools can try to encourage students to open up, including; a community discussion board, school meetings, friendship activities in the classroom, or a simple hello at break time to start a conversation.
Be aware of specific needs for each individual
We’ve mentioned the need to form relationships with students to better understand them, but there is also a need to be observant in the classroom to notice how you can help each individual student reach their maximum potential.
Understanding what is ‘normal’ behaviour for each student in a classroom will help to identify when there is an issue, allowing the teacher to intervene and help resolve the issue quickly rather than it escalating and resulting in poor behaviour or bad grades.
Use diverse visuals and resources in class
Using visuals and resources in class that use examples of all races, disabilities and genders may seem like a simple change to make, but it would make a world of difference for those from ethnic minorities and SEND students. Seeing a young person in a picture book or class resource for the lesson that is the same as them will make them feel included just like the rest of the class.
Promoting positive attitudes towards multicultural themes in class will also help to encourage students to have the same positive attitude.
Challenge students who show signs of negative attitudes
Teachers are also tasked with the challenge of questioning students' negative attitudes towards particular groups of people. They must make a point of challenging these attitudes in class to ensure that all students treat each other the same and with respect.
The school should put on events and activities to celebrate diversity and help children to understand that despite differences in appearance, learning abilities or religious beliefs - we are all human.
How Learning Hive makes learning inclusive
Here at Learning Hive our student’s well being and academic performance are of utmost importance to us, if they’re feeling excluded or shamed for any reason we want to ensure that the issue is resolved quickly and efficiently.
We know all too well that a student won’t be able to perform to the best of their ability if they have a lot on their mind, meaning they wouldn’t be able to get the most out of our sessions. That’s why even in the group sessions our staff will work on an individual basis with our students to build a solid foundation for a relationship. This is to enable the student to feel they can freely express how they feel and raise any concerns they might have about the class or any other issues.
For further information on how our group academic sessions work please do not hesitate to contact us and speak to one of our consultants on 0207 112 8658 or register at https://www.learninghive.co.uk/tuition-funding.