The great challenge

15th November 2002 at 00:00
THIS was national inclusion week, this was. But, as Julie Allan notes in her Viewpoint article, they were not exactly dancing in the streets to mark the occasion. It is, of course, early days. There are clear and severe problems with this flagship Government policy on both sides of the border. Every education authority is struggling to implement it, as Paul Hamill confirms (page four).

Inclusion is not a concept that anyone owns up to opposing. But teachers and education authorities are being pushed into oppositional rhetoric because they are not yet convinced the Government has moved beyond rhetoric. Ministers will argue that they have put money where their mouths are, but the problems are rather more fundamental than pump-priming.

For a start, there seems to be alarming confusion about what inclusion means which, among other things, leads to fundamental questions about who is to be "excluded". If an experienced and respected expert like Paul Hamill finds that some teachers are unclear about what "severe and complex" learning difficulties are, then we really need to revisit the drawing board. At the other end of the spectrum, the place of more able pupils in the inclusive philosophy has to be considered.

The most pressing preoccupation for schools, however, is not presented by pupils with learning difficulties or special gifts but by those with behavioural problems. Even that deceptively simple classification disguises a wide range of challenges, from pupils who are merely truculent to those who are deeply damaged.

Inevitably some schools - and some teachers - will be better at implementing inclusion than others. The starting point, as Mr Hamill pointed out, is for teachers to be inclusive in their thinking and practice. Dismissive attitudes should be consigned to the past and, like all professions, there needs to be a frank acknowledgement that problems can arise from the nature of the teaching rather than the nature of the taught.

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