Our Early Intervention Programme has been running for nearly ten years now
Our Early Intervention Programme has been running for nearly ten years now, and we have seen the positive effects filtering up through the school. The in-class support in numeracy and literacy has led to a greater understanding of both individual needs and whole-class management. Team-teaching, the discussion and the pooling of resources and information is so beneficial, but more than that it enables modelling, support for individuals on the ground in the classroom, and the classroom is turned into a crucible of learning where we mix it around together ( Heathcote, 1990) The potential to do small-group teaching and station activities, to shift the make-up of groups to enable at times mixed ability, at times ability groups, can only enhance a child-centred approach , and enable carefully tailored sessions to more individual needs. It is a shift that is exciting with potential for students of all abilities. The need to shift teaching styles to meet the particular needs of children could enhance the education of all in out school, particularly the needs of the more able pupils. In research on the benefits of peer tutoring, the able children gain as much as, if not more than, the less able. (King 2006)
Curriculum, instruction and assessment: Students receive instruction within the general education classroom, receiving appropriate help when needed. Ring and Travers (2005, pg.54) affirm that there is a need for “a common and coherent framework of teaching skills, which acknowledge the existence of differences in degree, intensity and explicitness of teaching (which should) constitute a continuum of teaching practices and inform pedagogical practices for pupils with SEN. Differentiation requires more planning, more work and more paperwork. In this country, we are still wedded to text books, and this suggests that one size fits all. No matter what the abilities within the class, we plough through text books and cover the content. Of course, we need resources and text books but the focus needs to be on the children and their relationship to the content. To do this, we must differentiate our instruction to allow all children access to the content and also to allow them a feeling of success.
Continuing professional development: This must be supported and encouraged for all staff members in order to instil a confidence and expertise in dealing with the challenges faced in the inclusive educational setting. There is considerable evidence that good training is essential for inclusion to work. Drudy and O’Gorman state that “professional development for LS/R/SEN teachers should incorporate a proactive dimension to enkindle a culture of inclusivity among the whole school community”. They continue by saying that “there is a need to reform professional development in inclusion/ SEN so that teachers actively interrogate the conceptualisation of their role and challenge the status quo.” The idea of teachers as reflective practitioners is one that I will take away from this research. There is a need to reassess the traditional role of the teacher and to move towards the ideal of teachers as researchers who implement and evaluate effective teaching and learning strategies for the diversity of students they will face throughout their careers. (Drudy ; O’Gorman 2010, p. 165)
Support Services: These auxiliary services should be part of the collaborative processes within a school and as such must be an integral part of the school community.
Parental involvement: Parent’s input must be sought, using a range of approaches, and especially, the parents of students with disabilities, or from minority or disadvantaged backgrounds.
Community involvement: is necessary in the success of inclusivity. Inclusion in extra-curricular activities is as important as inclusion within the school setting and lends itself to greater accepting of difference and diversity among peers. William Glasser states that :
” We must get them responsibly involved from early childhood in an education system in which they can succeed enough to function successfully in our society.”
Resources should be available across the school and to all students of any ability level to enhance learning. Staff must also recognise their own talents and expertise as valuable resources to one another. This can be shared through team-teaching.
School self-evaluation is an intrinsic part of the process of inclusion. If a school is to be truly inclusive, it must recognise the ever-evolving nature of that very definition. In order to continue to uphold that philosophy, a school must constantly look at the methodologies and the learning culture it promotes, and readjust as needed, continuously seeking improvement. Florian (1998) recognises this and states that “inclusion appears to be a grand and elusive concept. The fact that a single accepted definition has yet to gain currency reflects its complex and contested nature.”
A Comprehensive education plan must be in place that documents and records the processes involved in addressing the needs of all the above-mentioned areas. This plan should be a reference point for all staff in their decision making and their understanding of what underpins the learning culture within their school.
The ideal inclusive environment will not exist independent of a shared belief in the philosophy of inclusion and a dedication among stakeholders to continuously strive towards improvement. The driving force of this motivated environment must come from strong leadership. In order to take policies and implement them in a practical way within a school, the school principal plays a crucial role. The principal is in a unique position in making inclusion a shared objective, and in implementing a whole school approach. Waldron and McLeskey (2015 p 1.) support this, saying “Strong, active principal leadership to ensure that teachers share core values and an institutional commitment to developing an effective inclusive school.”
The role of the principal is key in making inclusion a whole-school initiative and not just the responsibility of the support team. It is important that there is a clear definition of the role of the class teacher and the role of the SET. As stated in the Learning Supprt Guideliness (2000, chapter 3, Section 4, p. 42)
“The class teacher has primary responsibility for the progress of all pupils in his/her class(es), including those selected for supplementary teaching. A particular responsibility of the class teacher is to create a classroom environment in which learning difficulties can be prevented or at least alleviated.”
Despite current trends in class size and subsequent workload, the primary responsibility for each individual in the class still rests with the class teacher. This perception of responsibility needs to be addresses at a school level, for it is in the classroom that the child spends the majority of the time. Some Mainstream teachers may feel that teaching children with significant learning difficulties is not part of their job despite legislation and international consensus ( Salamanca 1994). Westwood (2007, p.3) affirms that “often the rhetoric of ‘inclusion’ is far ahead of reality in schools. Teachers and principals in many countries are not strongly in favour of teaching children with special needs. Westwood (2007, p.3) says that ” studies have shown that teachers’ attitudes towards inclusion and towards students with disabilities is a powerful influence on the success or failure of inclusion.”
The government has created expectations and there is a demand for inclusion from society, but these demands are being placed in a sceptical teaching profession, many of whom feel that they are inadequately trained, supported or resourced,to meet the needs of these children
One of the strengths of my school is a tolerance of difference. Children cooperate well and support each other. Children with learning needs are well supported socially and peer tutoring and shared reading have been successful initiatives. Older children are effective at running activities for the younger ones, playground activities and sports day are popular and children have a high degree of social responsibility. Children generally are happy to come to school and that is a major strength. There is very little challenging behaviour. To a certain degree, that makes it more difficult for some of the children with behavioural difficulties. Some children with special needs currently attending the school present behaviours including calling out, making noises, running around, becoming agitated and physically aggressive. Staff find this difficult and distracting for themselves and others and are simply not used to it. Lerner (1998) states that behaviour challenges are the most difficult for teachers. My personal experience would lead me to agree.
There is considerable evidence that good training is essential if inclusion is to become more than just rhetoric. Florian and Rouse (2010,p.197) affirm that “Examining how teachers are prepared to work in inclusive schools is an important step in ensuring that they are able to deal with difference, remove barriers to participation and implement inclusive practice.” As a mainstream teacher, I understand that one can be fearful of not being able to cope, of not knowing what to expect or what leeway to provide for children with more severe learning needs. It was, in fact, in fact this feeling of inadequately meeting the special needs of some children within my mainstream class, that initially prompted my move towards becoming a special education teacher. The responsibility of making learning accessible for these children weighs heavily on me and it has pushed me out of my comfort zone and back into education myself, in order to gain expertise that will better prepare me to fulfil my role. A lot of training, such as this Post-graduate SEN Diploma course at St. Angela’s, is specifically for SETs. Several of the mainstream teachers with whom I work have expressed an interest in the course and a desire to learn, but not to take on the specific role of SET. They feel the course could benefit their teaching within the whole-class setting. I have to agree. Specialised government-subsidised training, such as that of which I am currently availing, could prove invaluable if open to the wider teaching community. It could massively help in shifting the balance of responsibility and of knowledge to the classroom. Considerable work needs to be done in terms of giving teachers the specific skills and the confidence needed to break down barriers to inclusion.
A priority in the short term is for my school to find the time for collaborative planning between the class teacher and the learning support teacher. From this, cooperation can grow. The focus will inevitably be on the individual needs but it will develop into how we work together and how programmes dovetail, and it will consequently look at the needs of the whole class. SEN teachers could cover to release class teachers to meet with other learning support staff. These meetings need to be regular and planned in order to maximise the use of time. A second area is that clarification is needed at a whole staff level of the role of the SEN teacher and the use of SEN teacher’s time. We may need to revisit our SEN Policy, looking carefully at the continuum of Support Model and areas of responsibility.
Discussions should take place within the learning support team so that we can better use our knowledge and experience to open up the debate and take a lead within the school. We need to target team meetings where there is a willingness from the class teacher to engage in an exploration of new approaches. We need to continue to maximise the effects of the early intervention programme.
Longer term, our aim should be to arrive at a policy and development plan for inclusion in our school, reducing the dependence on text books and investigation how we can meaningfully differentiate the curriculum in a manageable way. It will mean gradually building up resource banks of differentiated material in different classes, stories on disc, using technology that will make subjects such as history and geography more accessible to children with reading difficulties, breaking down various skills into more manageable tasks, and extending others into more open-ended explorations of topics. In the long term, we should also encourage and support staff members to develop skills through continual professional development, and to encourage greater and more regular rotation between class teachers and SEN teachers.
The development of inclusive practises is an exciting initiative. The ideals of the Salamanca statement resonate for me. It is clear that bringing them into has not been easy and there are many barriers to inclusion that need confronting (Rose, 2010). The extent to which it is possible to overcome the status quo with it’s roots in the wider society is uncertain. I feel it would be foolish to assume that educators can be blindly idealistic: schools function as a part of society, with society’s values and structures embedded in them. At this time, as the country experiences a slight reprieve after years of financial uncertainty, one could be hopeful that resources and funding would be made available. We must ” challenge existing social inclusion measures and seek more effective (and sustainable) models of intervention.” (O’Brien ; O’ Fathaigh, 2007.)