The issue - How to cater for every child's needs
At a basic level, inclusion in schools is not too difficult. On a day-to-day basis, it can be as simple as differentiating tasks. All teachers will do this. However, more complex needs receive more varied responses. The differences occur because inclusion is a highly personal issue: people have conflicting opinions about how much support should be offered to individual children. Personally, it is a part of the job that I enjoy - I relish the process of working out the right approach for every child. Here are the most effective ways I have found to do just that.
Meet the parents
Someone from the school should meet the parents to discuss their child's needs. Involve parents in any preparations prior to the start of the school year and review plans regularly - the situation can change rapidly.
Assess the environment
Do you need to adapt your classroom to suit the child? A student with dyspraxia, for example, may require a writing slope or an ergonomic pencil; for a wheelchair user, you may have to reposition furniture to enable them to move around the classroom. Assess the child's needs and make the necessary changes before they arrive.
Inform all staff
All members of staff need to be made aware of a child's needs. A photo board in the staffroom can be useful if large numbers of students have medical requirements. Hold a staff meeting where each case is discussed. Whole-staff training can be appropriate in the case of children who may require interventions such as EpiPens.
Use extra support in the classroom
If you are lucky, a child may have extra support in the form of a one-to-one assistant. Share your planning with the assistant and get them to help you when you are preparing resources. To ensure the child does not become too reliant on one person, swap the adult they work with and provide opportunities for independent activities, boosting their self-esteem.
Offer medical training
It is incredibly important that more than one person can perform medical procedures such as administering insulin to a diabetic child or completing physio activities. If only one member of staff can do this and they fall ill or leave employment suddenly, the school could find itself in a tricky situation.
Seek help from specialists
Find out what support you can get from outside agencies such as a school nurse or speech and language therapist. Specialist schools in your area may offer outreach support. They may also have equipment you can borrow or be able to point you in the direction of other help that is available.
Ask the experts
Transition between classes and schools can be made easier with communication. A teacher who has worked with a child for a whole year will have become an expert at dealing with their needs on a day-to-day basis. Share your knowledge and don't be afraid to ask previous teachers for help and advice - they may have a perspective you hadn't considered.
Model care and consideration
Children will follow the behaviour you model. Provide them with information so that they understand why things are different for that child. If they ask questions, answer them in an age-appropriate way. Monitor how the other children interact with the student and pre-empt any social problems before they escalate.
In our last Christmas play, a whole year group signed along to every song so that a particular child could join in. Changing everything to help one child is what inclusion is about for me. The gift that this gives to the other children of tolerance, understanding and kindness is worth every extra hour of planning and preparation.
Alice Edgington teaches at St Stephen's Infant School in Canterbury, Kent. Find her on Twitter @aliceedgington