Why is inclusive education a relatively new concept that has not fully reached maturity?
The 1978 Warncok Report that led to the 1981 Education Act were the foundations that moved from segregation in education, where children with additional needs or disabilities where taught in special schools, to integration, where children attended the same school, but their education was mostly separate from their peers. Over the last 40 years this has developed into inclusion, where children with additional needs are to be fully included alongside their peers. Inclusion values diversity and the unique contribution every child brings to the setting, so that every child has their needs met and is supported to overcome their challenges. It sounds like common sense and the foundation for a strong and supportive society, so why is it still not happening everywhere and why do we need the Every Child Included in Education manifesto?
The word inclusion itself is not always helpful, as it suggests there is a set norm, a mainstream child that is accepted and others who sit outside these parameters. For those children we must make reasonable adjustments, so they can be included as part of the group. It follows therefore, that if it doesn’t work we can exclude some children if they are deemed to not fit in with the group in some way, at least we tried! This may be part of the problem as our education system has not developed in line with the idea that all children are not the same and cannot be educated in the same way. Broadly speaking it is hard to be fully inclusive in an education system that was designed for children that fit into the parameters of ‘normal’ and we are now working as hard as we can to make inclusive, but it actually requires a fundamental rethink of how and why we do things and the flexibility to bend and change as required.
How much better would it be if it was the accepted norm that every child is welcome, no matter what or how they present, so that there was no concept of having to include them, they are already part of it? Surely this is what we want as a society – an education system that fits the needs of the individual child, not one that we have to mould the child to fit into. That way every child would be considered unique and the education they receive would be tailored to fit their needs. Is that a pipe dream, or a real possibility if we look at things differently?
My work as Achievement for All lead for Early Years means that inclusion is always at the forefront of my mind, so imagine my surprise when I realised that inclusion (the word and term) does not appear in the statutory Framework for the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). Reflecting on this was a light bulb moment - you do not need to include children if they are already a part of something!
Two of the four EYFS guiding principles state that:
“every child is a unique child, who is constantly learning and can be resilient, capable, confident and self-assured;”
“children develop and learn in different ways and at different rates. The framework covers the education and care of all children in early years provision, including children with special educational needs and disabilities.”
This underlying philosophy needs to be present throughout all education establishments - you are welcome and we value you for what you bring and we will support you to be successful. This would lead to a whole new approach to teaching and learning and what’s more, the answers are already there – just check out the EYFS framework and take from it the guiding principles and the characteristics of effective learning and we would not need an “Every Child Included” manifesto at all!
Find out more about our Early Years support here.