Get in with the in-crowd

6th April 2001 at 01:00
Janet Prescott on checking your school does well by everyone

Social inclusion is high on the Government's agenda. Inspectors have been taking a sharper look at schools' policies on educational inclusion since January. What does this mean for governors?

There is nothing new in the requirement for schools to be inclusive: governors have a duty to raise standards for all pupils. The change is the need to check that school procedures lead to this end.

Governors need to ensure that their schools identify different groups and chart their progress. Schools are now awash with pupil performance, attendance, exclusion and behaviour data, but most fail to exploit it fully, the Office for Standards in Education says.

Its recent report on improving attendance and behaviour in secondaries found that while most were comparing themselves against similar schools and national trends, and looking at boys' and girls' attainment, few were monitoring ethnic-minority pupils' progress or linking attendance data to attainment.

Some schools that analysed their performance in detail have been taken aback by findings. Even schools with good and improving results overall in GCSEs or national tests can find on close analysis that specific groups of children are not achieving as might be expected.

Evaluating Educational Inclusion, OFSTED's guide for inspectors and schools, includes a long list of groups who are to be particularly considered in terms of educational inclusion. It covers girls and boys; minority ethnic and faith groups, travellers, asylum-seekers and refugees; pupils who need support to learn English as an additional language; pupils with special educational needs; gifted and talented pupils; looked-after children; sick children, young carers, children from families under stress, pregnant school girls and teenage mothers and any pupils at risk of disaffection and exclusion.

Inspectors are warned that significant groups of pupils may not be getting enough out of their education, and that they should talk to pupils, teachers and parents about their experiences of school.

Inspectors must also make judgments about the effectiveness of the school in meeting children's needs. The guidance sets out tree key questions: do all pupils get a fair deal at school? How well does the school recognise and overcome barriers to learning? Do the school's values embrace inclusion, and does its practice promote it?

When these questions are looked at closely, it is clear that the inclusion focus goes right through the school's agenda. Governors need to ask lots of questions, such as whether pupils' achievements are high enough; they need to evaluate the steps taken to make sure that groups are not disadvantaged and ensure that their participation and success is promoted.

Inspectors will be asking what the school does specifically to prevent and address racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination - and what is done when cases of discrimination do occur.

Inspectors are currently being trained to evaluate schools' success at inclusion.

Local education authorities are responding by planning training for governors and schools, although most of this is still in the pipeline. Manchester City Council has been running a series of open meetings with teachers, parents and governors on how to take a more inclusive approach. It plans to use focus groups to concentrate on specific areas of educational inclusion, such as admissions, exclusions, and data analysis.

Jackie Harrap, who heads up the city's inclusion service, said: "Schools are now adept at analysing data, but it is important to look at this from the point of view of one group vis-...-vis another, checking that different cohorts and groups perform well." Educational inclusion is a broad subject, but it boils down to paying attention to equal opportunities and long-standing best practice in this area.

Bob Anderson, head of schools management in Ealing, west London, says:

"It's just focusing the mind and being aware; the inclusion process is not significantly different from the existing need to ensure equal opportunities, it's a question of formalising and focusing that need."

See for copies and publication details of helpful reports, including Improving Attendance and Behaviour in Secondary Schools; Evaluating Educational Inclusion; Improving City Schools; and Raising the Attainment of Minority Ethnic Pupils

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