The Conversation : Inclusion

28th November 2008 at 00:00
Steve Iredale, head of Athersley South Primary in Barnsley, a school with a transient population and high numbers of special needs pupils, tells Judith Judd how the staff make every child matter

Your school is in a former mining community, 42 per cent of pupils have special needs and a fifth come and go each year. It also has 11 per cent ethnic minority pupils. You've been successful in fostering inclusion. How did you do it?

Teamwork. The team includes teachers, learning assistants, a learning mentor, a parent support adviser and a behaviour inclusion worker. We restructured the staff into teams whose focus is teaching and learning. Non-teaching staff are represented by the business manager on the management team. Teams meet regularly and meetings focus on specifics - for example, how best to moderate work. The fact that staff have a say is critical to our success.

How important are non-teaching staff, such as the behaviour inclusion worker?

They are fundamental to what we do. They have time to deal with individual pupils because they are not timetabled. Some parents find them less threatening because they are not teachers. They are very approachable and can deal with issues that used to fall to me.

What do you find works best with your pupils, particularly those least enthusiastic about school?

All staff are aware of different learning styles. This came out of work with Excellence in Cities and Positively Mad. It's not a case of pigeonholing pupils as auditory or kinaesthetic learners, but being aware that we may need another approach for pupils at the extremes.

We do lots of hands-on learning. It's a battle to persuade lower-ability boys to enthuse about writing, so we sometimes work outside, where they can build, say, a den using matierials from our woodland. They come back into school and enjoy writing about the monster who came out of the den.

We do aerobics first thing in the morning, which prepares the children well for learning. We are using peer and self-assessment in our lessons, and making sure pupils are informed about their next steps of learning. We have also developed an effective tracking system that helps us to identify children who are working below the age-related expectation or have made little progress.

Do schools need extra resources to make inclusion work well? Were you, for example, able to hire anyone to fill the roles you say are so crucial?

This gets awkward as there are financial benefits to being in an area of deprivation. Had it not been for Behaviour Improvement and Excellence in Cities funding, our staffing model would have been largely impossible to achieve. This should not be the case.

The combined annual cost of the learning mentor, inclusion worker and parent support adviser is about Pounds 50,000 of external funding. Our financial commitment directly linked to inclusion is about Pounds 60,000 in addition to the external funding, which includes part of the parent support adviser's salary, several extra learning assistants, and the salary of an additional special needs co-ordinator. It isn't just the special needs children who benefit. The bright child who gets upset in the playground also goes to one of the non-teaching team.

Do parents ever question the school's approach to inclusion?

Generally, they are supportive. I have had parents who asked why their child was not getting the help others were. In that case, I look at their child with them and show them the progress the child is making. I explain that we try to give each child the help they need.

Does your inclusion policy affect your test scores? Do you worry that a high proportion of special needs children in the school pulls down its league table position?

The governors and staff agree that we should focus on the progress made by each child. That is how we measure success. League tables don't tell the real story, and we think they are largely irrelevant.

Statistically, according to Raiseonline and Ofsted 2008, our special needs and vulnerable pupils make similar progress to that of our non-SEN pupils, although clearly test results are lower. As long as we have a clear rationale for why individual pupils do not achieve the magic level 4, we have not been put under unreasonable pressure from the local education authority or anyone else. We are pleased if every child has made good progress.

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