Diverse celebrations

8th July 2005 at 01:00
Dorothy Lepkowska previews next month's Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress in Glasgow

Thirty years ago, it began life as the International Special Education Congress. Today, the ISEC acronym may remain the same, but just like policy and practice in schools, the name has changed.

One of the world's biggest special needs conferences has now become the the Inclusive and Supportive Education Congress. The five-yearly event, always held in the United Kingdom, is hosted this year by the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. It is expected to attract more than 1,000 visitors from 65 countries.

"We have changed the name and updated the concept to fit in with the topical agenda and the debate over inclusivity," says Isobel Calder, the congress chairman. "In Scotland, we are already slowly moving away from the term special needs to additional support needs, which is a much wider definition."

The theme this year, Inclusion: Celebrating Diversity, is likely to attract different responses from delegates. The issue has recently been highlighted again by Baroness Warnock, who inspired current practice with her inquiry which led to the 1981 Education Act. Last month, in a damning follow-up report, she said inclusion was failing pupils and needed to be reformed.

The themes for the conference will focus on curriculum, pedagogy, development, management and policy.

The main speakers from abroad include Dr Elliot Eisner, from Stanford university, Professor Trevor Parmenter, from the University of Sydney, Professor Windyz Ferreira, of Paraiba University and Dr Yunying Chen, from the China National Institute for Educational Research.

Professor Mel Ainscow, of Manchester, and Professor Roy McConkey, of the University of Ulster, are among the leading participants from the UK.

Mrs Calder, who is a lecturer at Strathclyde, says: "Special educational needs is not a British or even a Western phenomenon, but a global one.

Where countries differ is in their approaches and practices.

"Inclusivity, just like special needs, means different things to different people but we hope that people will define their terms. We aim to make it an inclusive conference where everyone will get a chance to air their views. It would be highly ironic if people were to end up feeling excluded.

"Talking about it helps to bring one's own thinking forward."

This year's event has attracted participants from all five continents, with academics and practitioners from as far afield as Spain, Israel, the United States, Brazil, Australia, Hong Kong and South Africa.

The papers to be presented in Glasgow include:

* PRECOCIOUS YOUNG LEARNERS

When a teacher notices a pupil lagging behind in lessons, is it because their development is slower than that of their peers, or that they are gifted and under-achieving because they are not being stretched?

Margaret Sutherland of Glasgow University will explore the mysteries of human development. How should teachers react to pupils who are showing "atypical" development? And is there an erroneous assumption by teachers that pupils who are able will progress without any additional help and support?

The paper will explore the idea of atypical development in precocious young children, and look at how teachers can support and challenge them in an inclusive setting.

* BEYOND INCLUSION: MAKING EVERY SCHOOL SPECIAL

Tameside council in Greater Manchester has been exploring innovative ways of promoting inclusion: five special schools are working with mainstream schools to promote partnership. Tameside's Clare Bibby will show how Hawthorns primary, a school for pupils with moderate learning difficulties, has exploited three factors to develop links: a review of provision, falling rolls and beacon status. She will address several questions including the balance between local authorities putting pressure on a school to integrate, rather than allowing it to happen naturally, and what is "special" about a special school that cannot transfer to the mainstream.

* DISCIPLINE TODAY

As schools vie for improving results and in England, better and better league table rankings, Gillian McCluskey, from Edinburgh University, looks at how punitive measures in schools can affect their ethos. She will argue that the political focus on using exclusion as a form of discipline and behaviour control, and on league tables as a performance indicator, has led to an impoverished understanding of the experience.

Gillian McCluskey will also examine whether calls for more punitive approaches, as a way of ensuring the rights of the majority of pupils to learn, are detrimental to achieving the calm, productive and creative ethos that most schools seek.

* ENABLING INCLUSION FOR PUPILS WITH BEHAVIOURAL DIFFICULTIES: THE ROLE OF TEACHING ASSISTANTS

Barry Groom, of University College Northampton, reveals the findings of a two-year study in Staffordshire on the effectiveness of assistants in supporting children with behaviour difficulties at key stage 2.

It concludes that classroom support staff need appropriate support and training. Where their input was felt most was in schools where their work was valued and assistants were involved in the planning and review process.

The research stresses the sharing of good practice between colleagues in schools.

* DYSLEXIA AND INCLUSION

This paper will examine how modern methods sometimes conflict with social and pedagogical attitudes and conventions. The challenges are encapsulated in six areas: acknowledging the differences; recognising strengths; understanding inclusion; planning for practice; achievable outcomes and understanding the role of resources.

Gavin Reid, of Edinburgh University, will stress that these areas highlight the challenges and needs facing all teachers if children with dyslexia are to be fully included in mainstream schools.

* PARENTS' PERCEPTION AND CHILDREN'S EXPERIENCES OF EARLY INTERVENTION

Alice Paige-Smith of the Open University explores the experiences of four families in the UK, who have children aged up to five with Down Syndrome.

Her paper will look at existing policy and practice, and ask what parents want and what are their children's experiences, and examine the levels of support available.

It will focus on the way in which parents and children participate in early intervention programmes to support learning. It will look at which measures are the most effective, and how research can be used for evaluation.

* EARLY-YEARS INCLUSION

Early childhood educators in Britain do not share the same views about how inclusion is best achieved. The paper, from Cathy Nutbrown, of the University of Sheffield, will look at early years policies in the four countries of the UK and how they relate to early years inclusive education.

It will show how various policy backgrounds are rooted in cultural and historical identities and appear to indicate particular beliefs about childhood and goals for early education. More than 270 early years teachers, working in a range of settings, were interviewed to establish their personal views on policies and the ways in which they are translated into practice.

* DEAF PUPILS IN SCOTLAND

In 1979 a study found that deaf school-leavers had an average reading age of nine. When in 1998 further research found no improvement, the Achievement of Deaf Pupils in Scotland Project (ADPS) was launched in Edinburgh. Marian Grimes, of Edinburgh University, looks at early evidence amassed from the project which shows that deaf children continue to underachieve compared with their hearing peers.

The project's next task will be a study of the factors that are likely to affect attainment. The paper will focus on the provision of services to deaf children, looking at the strategies available and how these are accessed. Interviews with deaf pupils will show inconsistencies in expectations and in resources available, which challenge inclusion.

ISEC 2005 will be at the University of Strathclyde from August 1-4; www.isec2005.org.uk

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