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Mixed-ability groupings help us all learn together

Children learn from each other when they are not unintentionally excluded by teachers

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Children learn from each other when they are not unintentionally excluded by teachers

One of the things that troubles me, when I think about inclusion in schools, is unintentional exclusion.

I don’t mean exclusion in the official sense – rather the way we divide children through setting and intervention. We “other” children without even meaning to.

Every time we send a child to work exclusively or in a small group with a TA, we do it. We also do it when we give disabled children – and by this I mean children disabled by the school environment and the curriculum, not necessarily those in wheelchairs – preferential treatment, without explaining why to the rest of the class.

We do these things with best intentions to make the world a better place for the most disadvantaged, but we know, as recent research by Rob Webster and Peter Blatchford shows (bit.ly/SENSEstudy), that it is against their best educational interests, even though it might make our lives easier.

When you think about it, it’s obvious. Children learn from each other – I’m looking at fidget spinners, dabbing, bottle flipping, the cup song and any number of other crazes that sweep the playgrounds at the speed of light without any intervention from adults apart from exasperation.

So, you have to ask: is it any wonder that a child with specific language needs fails to improve their speech when they spend the majority of their school time with other children with equal levels of need?

I have torn my hair out at the contrast in experience and knowledge between top and bottom sets: how one group leaps ahead and the other trails behind, with no one to bounce an idea off. And I’m not only talking about the academics. Turn taking, calling out, showing respect: all manner of school-friendly behaviour, is learned through the influence of peers, even though we like to tell ourselves children do it because of adult power.

It isn’t only the disabled kids who benefit, but also the typically developing, too. If you ask parents of disabled children why they send their children to the local mainstream school (apart from the convenience of it being the local school), social attitudes between students, the breaking down of barriers and the building of a better future for all often feature at the top of the list. If you can, read the Salamanca Statement (bit.ly/salamanca_s).

To learn to be patient, kind and considerate of other people, to learn to share and understand that other people see things differently to yourself and to respect that: these are good things for us all to learn.

By educating children in mixed ability groupings, we can teach them these things at school.

Nancy Gedge is a consultant teacher for the charity the Driver Youth Trust, working with school and teachers on SEND. She is the Tes SEND specialist, and author of Inclusion for Primary Teachers

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