As an English teacher, head of department, SENCo, Senior Leader and now head of a large innercity teacher training organisation, I have had the privilege of considering inclusion from a variety of roles and perspectives throughout my career. Morally, I see it at the heart of education and teaching practice, and practically, I see the challenges, rewards and huge benefits committing to inclusion brings to classrooms and communities.
So, what is inclusion? Simply, it’s a commitment to ensuring all children are educated together, with support for those who require it to access the full curriculum, contribute and participate in all aspects of school life. It means ensuring those children with special educational needs and/or disabilities (SEND), those for whom English is an additional language (EAL) and any child who requires additional support are included fully in school life.
Let’s be honest: it can feel scary to not know the best way to help someone learn and overwhelming trying to get to know this whilst also being responsible for the rest of a class. However, creating an inclusive classroom can be done without armfuls of differentiated worksheets and some intensive training on every possible condition or challenge that a teacher may encounter before starting.
HERE ARE TEN TIPS TO GETTING INCLUSION RIGHT FROM DAY ONE:
1 Get to know your SENCo and TAs. These people are some of the most valuable resources in a school. They are the experts you seek when you need to know more, are stuck or are worried, and who get to see children in a range of year groups, lessons and subjects, so often have a wider lens to support your thinking and approach.
2 Make sure you are familiar with data and medical needs so there are no surprises, but don’t allow labels to define human beings. No two children are the same, so whilst data and a diagnosis provide a useful starting point, it’s most important to build a current picture in the classroom and stay inquisitive about what works best for that child.
3 Maintain the highest of expectations for all, always. Useful questions to ask yourself are: ‘What would help make this accessible?’ and ‘What is the next step for this child?’ Avoid the trap of ‘X can’t manage this’; challenging, fascinating concepts and stimulus material are essential components of education for all children.
4 Start to think about making best use of support in your classroom. What input from a TA will have maximum impact for a given child or group? Share your thinking and intended outcomes before the lesson and make time to briefly chat and evaluate at the end of the lesson. There’s a world of difference between scripting for a child, prompting answers or definitions, refocusing wandering attention periodically, framing thinking or writing, rephrasing questions and aiding discussion. Experiment with these and explore the impact with both the children and TA periodically: it’s vital to work with TAs actively for maximum benefit.
5 Stay curious! What happens in other lessons or subjects? Which is a child’s favourite and why? Observing colleagues or tracking a class through a school day can stimulate ideas and build contacts to explore solutions together.
6 Avoid removing children for intensive support or 1:1s unless absolutely unavoidable. Social inclusion during whole-class teaching or class discussion is invaluable; your class is a micro-community, and missing continuity, contact and content is often not the best solution.
7 Consider the reading age of questions and texts, as well as which terms and concepts would benefit from definitions or images to ensure understanding. This is a better use of your time than creating multiple worksheets or activities, and far less time-consuming! Think carefully about command words in questions or tasks and making sure everyone has clarity as a priority.
8 Use parents’ evenings and any parental contact to build a relationship, find out what works at home and maintain consistency of approach where possible. Value that input and have confidence that a parent will be reassured of your interest rather than expect an expert in their child from day one.
9 Involve yourself in the wider life of the school: talent shows, trips, school play, sports events, after-school clubs, catch-up support. Whatever it may be, it’s a fun and useful way to build links outside of your subject or age phase and get to know the individuals in your classroom. For my money, it’s one of the greatest joys of a teaching career.
10 Be aware of what you don’t know. I learnt most in my career from talented educational psychologists, speech and language therapists, incredibly experienced TAs and counsellors. Teachers are not required to absorb that knowledge and professional experience from day one, but we do need to be responsible enough to know when to ask for help and draw on it.
As a SENCo, I valued the teachers who sought me out to chat through approaches, who took an interest in access arrangements and Education, Health and Care Plans (EHCPs), and who dropped in to voluntary training sessions or to see TAs about lessons.
It’s not always possible in a busy school day, but forging those relationships and seeking out that expertise pays dividends in supporting inclusion.
Explore free resources on inclusion here: www.csie.org.uk/resources/inclusion-index-explained.shtml.
Rachael Hare is a former head of English, AST, SENCo and senior leader across a range of inner city schools. She now leads Harris Initial Teacher Education, supporting beginner teachers and NQTs within the Harris Federation.