I am starting to wonder if inclusion is such a good idea. The reason for my concern is an 11-year-old boy whose emotional and behavioural difficulties are so extreme that they are making it impossible for me to teach.
He shouts and swears, tosses chairs aside, kicks things, throws things, and is a constant source of disruption. Even in the brief moments when he is calm, I feel there is a ticking time bomb in my class waiting to go off.
I appreciate that I am a relatively new teacher (I completed my probation last year) and maybe I don't have all the tricks up my sleeve to deal with this boy. However, more experienced teachers have told me that he has been disruptive since day one and that I should brace myself for a year of "survival".
Only now is he being officially assessed for emotional and behavioural difficulties. In the meantime, I will continue to pull my hair out and he will continue to flounder in the mainstream. It doesn't seem right and I don't think I'm the only one who feels that way.
My friend Jayne teaches an infant class, in which one child has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and another has suspected autism. The investigative process into the latter child has been long and Jayne believes that official diagnosis will be delayed until a space becomes available in an autistic unit. In the meantime, the boy spends the mornings out of the classroom in a support group for children with emotional and behavioural difficulties. Jayne acknowledges that the group is not meant for him, but she says it is the only time the class can get respite from him.
In the afternoon, she is left to cope on her own with the boy. A typical afternoon would see him crawling around, screaming and shouting, hiding under tables and refusing to do as he is asked.
Jayne believes inclusion in the mainstream is not benefiting this boy because he does not socialise with the others and he does not get the additional support he needs. She also feels that his presence is hindering the other pupils (as a result of the disruption, Jayne is not as far through her forward plan as she would have hoped) and it is setting the tone for the behaviour of the class. This boy gets away with things that others do not and special allowances are made for him.
So, while Jayne says she likes the idea of inclusion, she feels the nature of some syndromes means mainstream is not the place for all children to get the best out of their education.
However, there are examples of inclusion working. Last year, I taught a class with two autistic children. They were supported by a special educational needs auxiliary and, as a result, their integration was very smooth.
This year, my friend Claire teaches a mainstream class with one severely physically disabled pupil who presents no behavioural or organisational problems. He hoists himself out of his wheelchair to join his classmates on the floor at circle time and he has developed strategies that enable him to participate in PE.
Claire feels it is an example of inclusion at its best because the boy gets to experience school life in the same way as other children, while his classmates have had any preconceptions about disabled people challenged, giving them a wider understanding of society.
On paper, this boy would seem more difficult to include than the disruptive pupil in my class or the boy with suspected autism in Jayne's. Neither has been officially recognised as having special needs so, instead of being examples of inclusion, they are just attending school like anyone else.
So what is needed? Not everyone with suspected or recognised special needs requires the same level of support, and yet a more detailed case-by-case approach would be time consuming and expensive. Is that, however, a good enough reason not to do it?
Additional support staff and further training in how to deal with disruptive behaviour would help, as would smaller class sizes, where it would be less stressful and children could be integrated better. If inclusion is worth doing, surely it is worth doing well for the sake of everyone.
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