I WAS out with a friend of a friend’s family and her youngest daughter had Down’s syndrome. As I’ve dealt quite a lot with tribunals and appeals, I asked about school. She was going to her local primary school.
“Have you had any resistance from the teachers?” I asked. “What about training? Do you feel she’ll be well catered for?”
I continued in this negative vein for quite some time, when suddenly the mother said, “There shouldn’t be any issues, she has a lot to offer the school.”
Well, she may as well have slapped me round the face with a wet fish.
Me? Self-proclaimed Inclusion Queen and Ms Equality? I was examining every single hurdle that her daughter may encounter.
I was really ashamed that I’d managed to fall into the classic deficit trap of inclusion. Of course this charismatic little girl had lots to give: the other pupils would benefit from her presence, the teachers would learn how to be even better teachers. Diversity is, after all, a resource not a liability.
This conversation drove home to me how, as I’d been fighting for inclusion for a very long time now, I was conditioned to see inclusion as a battle. I’d lost my inclusion mojo and I needed to regain it.
It shouldn’t be a fight for learners with SEND, it’s their right to receive a world-class education – just as it is for all our children. Students need to see and mix with a variety of other children. Those with SEND are not the problem – instead, they are one solution to a better, more tolerant community.
This attitude, this inclusion mojo, is what teachers need to adopt. It is about not seeing these children as something to be resolved but embracing their differences and recognising, like the mother told me, that they add value to a school.
Like all children, they will have varying moods, good days and bad days, they will be filled with curiosity for some subjects but disinterested in others. It is the job of the teacher to nurture their love of learning and instil a work ethic in them as much as it is with the child who requires little effort to learn because it comes easily to them.
In our school, we have a teacher with the inclusion mojo. One of the students in our speech and language base said that he didn’t want to go to PE as they were playing touch rugby and he was scared. This teacher didn’t just tell me to encourage him and send him over. He came to the classroom, he told the student he needed to come and he’d be his wingman and that was it: PE is now this student’s favourite subject: he’s even chosen it as a GCSE option next year.
This same teacher was on his way home down the corridor the other day and stopped to ask me about another young person. We ended up discussing quite a lot of pupils who have difficulties and once we’d finished, as he walked off (resplendent in his Welsh dragon hat as he was about to head to Twickenham for the England and Wales rugby match), he waved with his back to me and said, “Aye, they’ve all got something to give.”
That, my fellow teachers, is inclusion mojo. Have you got it?
Jules Daulby is a SEND specialist and will discuss “Is Inclusion Working?” at the Festival of Education on 28 June.