The dictionary defines inclusion as “the action or state of including or of being included within a group or a structure”. In a school or education setting, this means that every child and every adult who learns and works in a school is valued and whose educational and personal needs are met. Inclusion is also about parents and the community in which the school exists. It is not about integration, which has a whole different meaning and context. It is not about treating everybody the same, instead, it’s about meeting individual needs, being prepared to be different. It’s about equality of opportunity and an inclusive framework that carries through all policies and actions. In an inclusive school, everybody’s voice is heard, encouraged and valued. Strong relationships are the key to an inclusive school but it is important to say that these relationships won’t just happen… they have to be nurtured and cultivated so that they can evolve and be flexible to ever-changing demands and needs.
Head teachers have the power to influence and build inclusive schools. They set the inclusive culture and ethos and communicate this to all stakeholders. They lead by example. These Heads are highly principled, imaginative and are very clear about their beliefs. Furthermore, they talk the talk and they walk the walk and constantly influence and drive the inclusive agenda. Heads of inclusive schools are clear about the barriers that hierarchies can create in schools and they do their best to minimise them and to create a collegiate and collaborative atmosphere and way of working. Governors are a significant part of the leadership of inclusive schools and essentially, need to be committed to the inclusion agenda so that they can contribute, support, challenge and hold the Head to account in an appropriate manner.
There are many definitions of inclusion and it takes time to develop a truly inclusive school but, having said that inclusion is not finite as the school continues to identify barriers that need to be overcome in order to fully include everyone. A policy framework of equality of opportunity and social justice will enable Heads and Governors to plan for inclusion and will ensure all school policies and practices are framed around an inclusive philosophy and vision. In this way students, staff and parents will have ownership of the inclusion journey and will be enrolled to its ideals.
Inclusion is about all staff as well as all students. It’s about parents, governors and the extended community. An inclusive school does not try to put children into ready-made boxes. It is about looking at their individual needs and breaking down any barriers to their learning – academic, social and emotional. Inclusive schools care for ALL their staff, whatever their designation and make sure that they are supported in order to be fully effective in their roles. Professional learning for staff will be ongoing and be designed to develop and grow their skills and their practice.
Inclusion is not automatic, but organic. It requires real commitment from all members of the school’s community. Provision of necessary resourcing can be challenging and take time to research, monitor and acquire. Ensuring inclusive practice, however, is our responsibility and it’s the right of each and every person within their scope of responsibility. It’s the right thing to do.
What is Inclusive Practice?
Building life skills and effective teaching and learning are at the core of an inclusive school. Quality First Teaching recognises that there is no one way of teaching and recognises that one size does not fit all. Teachers need to build their skills in their planning and delivery of lessons and be flexible to when students need to overcome barriers to their learning. Continuous awareness of professional learning needs and staff development are key. An inclusive school is a learning school for all members of the community. The wellbeing of all staff needs to be a real consideration, enabling staff to manage ever-changing workloads within a climate of support and encouragement. The need to ensure awareness of mental health issues has never been more significant as pressures and expectations alter and shift.
Building, growing and identifying inclusive practice permeates every aspect of the school: the curriculum; pedagogy; assessment practices; individualised provision needs; policies and on and on. Inclusive schools need to develop clear Behaviour for Learning policies that are not based on a “No Excuses” platform but recognise that behaviour has to be flexible and reflect an individual need and context. Fair admission and exclusion policies need to be carefully developed and considered within a framework of an inclusion philosophy.
Whilst inclusive schools ensure that performance management processes are well established for all staff and clear accountability and auditing procedures are well used, it is important that these do not mask a punitive agenda that can lead to anxiety and stress. These should be supportive and focus on personal growth and development. Value is based on the use of data and it is important to remember that there is a child at the heart of that data and therefore consideration needs to be given to the potential barriers to progress that data as viewed on its own, alone can reveal. Inclusive schools generate and assess all data and information, dedicated and incidental, that gives a full picture of each individual. ‘Closing the gap’ is a phrase well used but not often understood. Any child can fit into multiple categories of definition so achievement data alone will not show the full picture. Whilst data is useful and necessary it needs to be looked at in context, as only a part of the jigsaw of information needed.
In inclusive schools, student’s voice is an important element and this is not just about having a school council who ask questions about school dinners and toilets. Students need to feel valued and to be enabled to build opinion and collaborative thinking skills that can ultimately impact on their whole school experiences. Teaching students to debate and question responsibly the status quo is a sign of an inclusive school.
Including parents/carers is significant within an inclusive school. We know that parents are not a homogeneous group and some can make inclusion very difficult. We know that parental support is key to the success of our schools. Schools sometimes feel that the challenge of enrolling that important parent voice is often insurmountable but the result is worth the effort and builds the strength of the inclusive platform. Together we ARE stronger.
An inclusive school is one that is central to the local community. It has a clear identity. Efforts are made to collaborate with other schools and voluntary agencies as well as businesses and official agencies. No school exists as an island and inclusive schools harness the resources the community might offer and works in partnership. ‘A village builds the child’.
Every school is different but an inclusive school feels different. Everyone is welcomed and supported. The inclusive school knows that everything cannot always be perfect but that being inclusive is a continuous journey. They reflect, listen, try, change and adapt … and never give up or give in.
Find out more about the IQM Inclusive School Award
If your school is interested in obtaining the IQM Inclusive School Award or you wish to talk to a member of the IQM team please telephone:
028 7127 7857 (9.00 am to 5.00 pm)
or email: [email protected] for further details.
Want more information on the IQM Award? Click here to request your free IQM information pack.