Strange, isn't it, the elusive and slippery fiend that calls itself inclusion? I remember the module in my teaching degree that dealt with the theory of why it matters.
But the training certainly didn't prepare me for my first clash of foreheads with inclusion in practice, and the odd little army of shuffling, throat-clearing bureaucrats who enforce it.
There's a pupil in my class with autism who is, quite simply, better suited to life in a special school. This child is unable to access the curriculum, has considerable one-to-one support, and spends a large amount of time out of the class. Her mum agrees, the Senco agrees, I agree, her special needs assistant agrees and even the head agrees that mainstream isn't the place for her.
Taking this unanimous endorsement into account, I thought the request for the child to be moved to a local special school was all but academic - a form-filling and box-ticking exercise. The horn was blown, signalling another annual review for the child. The feverish collection of paperwork began and watches were synchronised in preparation for the meeting. Entering the room, I was met with the fearsome features of the local authority special needs officer and her nigh on useless underling. Let's call them "the bureaucrats".
Also present was a nervous, trembling parent (who somewhat shockingly revealed that she felt like she was at a Jobcentre Plus interview), the Senco and the special needs assistant. We reviewed the girl's statement, ticked boxes, filled forms, ticked something else, re-filled forms from previous meetings - the usual stuff.
As I sat there smiling, nodding encouragement at the clearly overwhelmed, terrified and stunned parent, I managed to pick up through the politically correct waffle that the bureaucrats did not believe the child needed a place in a special school.
I wasn't sure I had heard correctly at first, so I asked one of the bureaucrats to repeat what he had just said. "Yes, well, erm, at this stage, ah, it is quite clear the child is perfectly happy to be, ah, in a mainstream school."
And so there it was. Decision made. Meeting over. Evidence produced, but discounted with a wave of a clawed hand and the child's needs given secondary importance to the number-crunching lottery of the local authority.
It didn't matter that the parent knew the child's needs more intimately than any education professional in the room, and certainly more so than the bureaucrats. It's a shame, and it worries me a great deal. Inclusion can work. But inclusion for inclusion's sake denies the needs of the children that the policy should serve.
The author is a primary school teacher in the north of England. Tell us what keeps you awake at night - email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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