Special and inclusive education is an area of rapid change. Recent years have seen not only legislative change in the disability discrimination area, and a major shift in Government promotion of inclusive policies, but also new rights for parents and changes in Ofsted's inspection of inclusion. Now the 2003 Green Paper "Every Child Matters" promises major developments in the way professionals work together and, along with new strategy, Removing Barriers to Achievement, will bring together the last five years of policy change, with inclusion and joined-up thinking underpinning plans for the future.
Alongside the need to keep up-to-date with the onslaught of policy initiatives there is a pressing need not to lose sight of the lasting issues of what makes for quality teaching and learning for all. The challenge is to share information about policy initiatives, but also to give teachers the tools and confidence to appraise those initiatives critically so they can implement change in a principled way. The Open University (OU) inclusive education courses, which used to attract mainly teachers, now attract para-professionals, parents, administrators and people with an interest in social justice.
Professional development courses bring wider educational and life-changing benefits. Teaching assistants bring with them rich experience, which, in the spirit of inclusive education, needs to be valued and built upon.
Recognising themselves and their experiences in study materials that explicitly value diversity is part of what can get them "hooked" on education.
Past OU courses have both helped to set and respond to the agenda for inclusion. Mark Vaughan, director of the Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education, has described how they have influenced many of their key campaigns (Support for Learning, 17,1, 2002, p44). They have offered a critique of segregated systems and called for inclusion.
This month OU launches a new course, "E243 Inclusive Education: Learning from Each Other", which continues the tradition but also marks some changes. It maintains the central tenet of listening to people who encounter barriers to learning and participation, while relishing the diversity of the students. In providing inclusive education courses, the OU believes it has a responsibility to enable students, be they teachers, teaching assistants or whoever, to shape the way that inclusive education develops in our schools.
The course structure starts by taking stock of where we are and how we got here. It then examines our current and historical position using various conceptual frameworks, particularly the social model of disability and human rights approaches.
The next stage presents a case study school working towards inclusion and discusses the priorities and visions of good inclusive education held by academics, activists, parents, pupils and professionals. Students then explore different models of practice including resourced schools and community schools and the need for both proactive and reactive measures to promote inclusion and prevent exclusion. The final stage, "Making it Happen", addresses bringing inclusion to fruition, so that the future really is a bright one.
E243 Inclusive Education: Learning from Each Other involves approximately six hours study a week from February to October; there are five assignments and no exam
Tel: 01908 653231
Melanie Nind is senior lecturer in inclusive education at the Open University