Give us room to reflect

25th August 2006 at 01:00
A new book offers a good summary of initiatives and issues related to inclusion, but Gary Thomas would like to see more questions raised

Making Inclusion Happen: a practical guide

By Anne Hayward

Paul Chapman Publishing pound;18.99

In a world where education initiatives seem to land as relentlessly as dead leaves from a grey sky, this book will help. The author confidently asserts that the book will aid readers "find their way through the maze". She isn't shy about outlining her credentials for the task. She tells us in the second paragraph that the idea behind the book came from a course she has been running "very successfully all over the UK"; the course is based on her "many years of experience in the inclusion field and a comprehensive knowledge of what is going on in schools and agencies". She is a consultant to the DfES and has "collated enormous amounts of best practice". Readers can rest assured that they are in good hands.

Though it is presented as a workbook that one might dip into for useful bits, it is in fact more than that and repays more thorough reading from beginning to end, for much is covered. The opening chapter leads one through a range of recent changes and their associated buzzwords. We are given a good account of inclusion and what it means, and there are short sections on the children's services agenda, multi-agency working, the DfES's "New Relationship with Schools", schools workforce remodelling, the extended schools programme, the Youth Green Paper and more. And all in 14 pages. I don't note this brevity disapprovingly: these new ideas and frameworks are well introduced and there are good references to relevant websites that will do the necessary expansion. The accompanying CD repeats tables used in the book in PDF format which schools and others can amend to suit their needs.

The second chapter presents an equally rich diet, telling us about special educational needs legislation, behaviour management, accessing support from agencies, Sure Start, Portage, nurture groups, learning support units, learning mentors, the Behaviour Improvement Programme (BIP), Skill Force, attendance and punctuality, Connexions, Special Schools Specialist Status Programme and funding. Phew. At this point, the phrase usually applied to bodily functions -"too much information" - takes on new meaning, though the information in question merely reflects the environment schools have to live in; if you want to know about it, well, this book tells you.

The author makes the important point that funding for much of this work has come from Excellence in Cities and the BIP and that from this year funding will travel differently, with the money going straight to schools. About time too, in my opinion. Let's have more trust in headteachers and teachers to decide how to spend the money. If anyone in the Government is interested in evidence-based practice beyond its sloganising potential, there is plenty of evidence in special education that centrally started initiatives have less long-term potential than good work organised locally, so it's refreshing to see a small move back in this direction.

It's rather difficult summarising this book, because there is so much in it. The final three chapters of the book are rather like the first three: a romp through the issues. There are chapters on managers and management matters, self-evaluation and maximising resources. Who will all of this be useful for? It will certainly be invaluable for Sencos and headteachers who want to ensure that they are up to speed with Government initiatives and directives, and it contains some useful pointers to action.

Some bits offer some expansion, such as a section on team-building that gives a table offering different kinds of team member: implementer, co-ordinator, shaper, resource investigator, and so on. But much is in the same mould as the agenda that it seeks to unpack, offering bullet points and boxes with little room for reflective explication. For example, in a section (taken at random) on supervision in the chapter on management there is a sub-heading "For the staff being supervised, (supervision) has the following benefits" followed by five bullet points: "helps develop self-awareness"; "relieves stress"; "is a debriefingoffloading forum"; etc. What about any downside of supervision (for example the possibility of loss of ownership)? Could this be discussed? Rather in the way of the agenda that it helps one through, the book offers the answer: it doesn't invite thought about whether the prescriptions are right.

The book is called Making Inclusion Happen and it will certainly help you to this end, for it's an excellent resume of issues and schemes. But you will need to follow some of the pointers to further reading - for instance to the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education's Index for Inclusion - for more in-depth advice.

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