Inclusion means being friends

11th November 2005 at 00:00
Being accepted by their classmates can be crucial to the successful integration of children with special needs into mainstream schools.

This is the finding of a book, Snapshots of Possibilities, published by the Alliance for Inclusive Education, which highlights successful strategies used by 21 primary and secondary schools, all with effective inclusion policies.

Micheline Mason, the alliance's director, says they all emphasised the importance of teaching pupils as well as teachers about inclusion techniques, such as conflict resolution and peer mentoring.

"For a child to feel included, they need friends," she said. "They need not to be bullied. Teachers can't ensure that. Only other children can. This is an important part of their education. It gives children the ability to build a better community, which they can take away into adult life. It teaches them to include."

Staff must set a good example, she said. Almost half (48 per cent) of pupils at Southwark primary, in Nottingham, which is profiled in the book, have special needs. These include a number with severe learning and behavioural problems.

Michaela Saunders, headteacher, said: "It's not inclusion if you stick them in a room somewhere. Pupils need to be mostly integrated into the classroom. But this needs to be valued and worked for. It needs a whole-school approach."

Southwark runs a number of programmes to ensure a sense of collective pupil responsibility. A peer-mentoring scheme teams Year 3 pupils together with buddies in Year 6. Each would-be buddy must apply for the job, and is interviewed by the previous year's cohort. There are also pupil-led anti-bullying projects.

"Children definitely respond well to responsibility," said Ms Saunders. "If there's any kind of name-calling, our pupils are up in arms. They're learning, from age five, that they are responsible for other people.

"Children have to be involved in school life, irrespective of ability. You all really, really work, to make sure the wheels turn."

Rhyszeke Cken, 10, acts as a buddy for a Year 3 pupil with special needs.

He believes pupils have much to contribute to an inclusive school. "If teachers don't like it, they can just get another job," he said. "We have to come to school for years. When something's wrong with our buddy, we give them help. Then teachers have time for other children. We're all human, but people with SEN have different needs to us."

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