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Inclusion = tolerance of poor behaviour? Absolutely not!


Over the last few years I have often encountered the misconception that schools that seek to be inclusive of individual needs tolerate poor behaviour which disturbs the learning of others. So "magnet" schools which are beacons of good practice for inclusive education are unsuitable for other students because their learning is disrupted by the needs of others? Absolutely not - this needs tackling head-on. Possibly best by using a personal example....


I am a Maths teacher (originally Physics by training, but that is another story....). My classroom is calm, well-ordered and quiet and I am generally considered quite "strict" by students. I would also consider myself to be very inclusive of a whole range of special educational needs. How can both these things be true?


There is a recent very useful blog by Ben Newmark on this subject (https://bennewmark.wordpress.com/2023/10/17/what-do-inclusive-classrooms-look-like/) which describes an inclusive classroom as "calm, quiet, predictable, orderly and clear". As he says "inclusive classrooms are first good classrooms".


In practice, having a quiet, calm, "good" classroom gives me capacity to address individual needs. Teaching is fundamentally based upon relationship, upon knowing the young people in front of you. This is coupled with professional knowledge and guidance as to the best strategies to support the needs of individuals - whether that be social emotional and mental health needs, learning difficulties, autism, physical disability or communication issues..... For many students with individual needs a quiet, predictable environment enables them to feel secure and to thrive. This is not the same as saying that the teaching is dull or boring - engagement is important and that is our job - to engage, support and encourage all our students. This cannot be done in a disruptive environment so good order is a key priority for all inclusive schools.


Obviously those needs which lead to behavioural or noisy challenges which might disturb others are superficially the most obviously tricky and that is where the ethos and systems of the school are critical. An inclusive teacher can only function in an inclusive school. For example, there are times when children cannot remain in the classroom and the school has to have a system for this - supportive, not punitive. A few moments of timeout is often important for those students whose needs mean they are compelled to move, fidget or call out, for example. The school has to be supportive of reasonable adjustments to provision to enable the child to thrive and very aware of sensory needs (loud bells, crowded corridors, need for safe spaces during breaks and lunchtimes, for example), it has to care deeply that each child succeeds and must see individual needs as challenges and opportunities, not as barriers and threats. We all have our own individual needs - it is part of what makes us human.


So being an inclusive school does not mean that the learning of some will be disadvantaged by the behaviours of others. In fact the learning of all benefits from a school ethos of attention to individual needs, whatever they may be.


So - seek out inclusive schools, send your children to them, support them, work in them and be part of life-changing experiences for the young people of our community.


As always I am happy to discuss any of these issues with anyone and to support any parents/carers in working with their child's secondary school. www.findingcommonground.org.uk, advice@findingcommonground.org.uk, 077677142877 (Whatsapp or text).


James Harris


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