Next step - How do I become an inclusion officer?

10th July 2009 at 01:00
It can be tough working with pupils with such a range of problems, but the rewards make it worth the trauma

Exclusion, teenage pregnancy or a broken leg - there are all sorts of reasons why young people may not be able to attend school.

But everyone has a right to an education and the job of an inclusion officer is to keep young people in school wherever possible. Or if that's not possible, to ensure they get an education somewhere else.

"Our exclusion rate is one of the lowest in Wales," says Dermot McChrystal, head of the inclusion team at Torfaen County Borough Council. "In fact, we went through a four-year period where we didn't have a single permanent exclusion."

The secret of Torfaen's success? A team of inclusion officers who work closely with schools, analysing data and meeting teachers so that they can identify pupils at risk of exclusion and work to pre-empt problems.

Cutting down on exclusions is just one part of the job. Inclusion officers may also find themselves working with special needs pupils, traveller children, home-schoolers, or children who are doing paid work when they should be in school. The job description varies across authorities - and so does the kind of person doing the job.

Many authorities like inclusion officers to be former teachers, perhaps special needs co-ordinators, while others are more flexible. "If someone from industry has the right personal qualities, we'd definitely consider them," says Mr McChrystal. "The most important thing is a willingness to put the needs of children first, and then to fit the needs of adults around that."

At Camden Council in London, Dylan Buckle grew into the role, after starting out as a receptionist there. Now he specialises in working with school-aged mothers, to help them continue their education.

"Teenage mums may already have a complex family life and poor history of attendance, and becoming pregnant complicates matters. I arrange tuition for them at a local family centre, so they can be taught in a small group, in a supportive atmosphere, with other people in the same situation. Under-16s still have a right to maternity leave, but they also have a right to education before and after that," he says.

As well as supporting school-aged mums - and dads - Mr Buckle arranges teaching for children with long-term medical problems, key stage 3 pupils who have been excluded, and a small group of "school-phobics" who experience high levels of anxiety in a mainstream setting.

He has a team of six teachers at his disposal and calls on their skills as and when required, arranging small tuition groups, or sending teachers out to people's homes. But Mr Buckle's official title at Camden is reintegration officer, and getting children back into an appropriate school environment is always his long-term priority.

He admits that the job can be emotionally demanding - one reason why he recently decided to go part-time after six years in the role. "Working with young people whose lives are fractured and complicated is tough going. The rewards are few and far between. But for the children I work with, I am something constant in their lives, often over several years, and I hope that one day they will look back and say I did a good job for them."

When the rewards do come, they're all the more satisfying for being hard- won. "I attended a meeting this week about a young girl who went to three different primaries and had real behavioural difficulties, but who's now settled well at a secondary school. It's taken an awful lot of work by a range of different agencies in order to get her there. To be honest, I don't think anyone thought it would be possible - but we've done it."


Salary: pound;25,000-pound;40,000

Key qualities: Patience, great communication skills.

Qualifications: No specific qualifications. But most inclusion officers will be working with children who have special educational needs, so experience as a special needs co-ordinator, for example, can be valuable.

Next steps: Many schools have teachers designated as the "inclusion manager", with responsibility for promoting inclusion throughout the school. It's not usually a full-time duty, but would put you in a strong position if you then wanted to apply for inclusion officer jobs at local authority level.

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