Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Inclusion & Teaching in London - Is it Fabulous or a Failure?

In Canada, students with special educational needs are usually included in our schools, with extensive support from Teaching Assistants (also called Educational Assistants) who are highly trained, patient, dedicated and life-savers for the teachers.  Inclusion seems to be working, or so most of our teachers would say, before moving to teach in London, England that is.

Then they get to London.  They teach in classrooms with 22-28 students from 22-28 different countries, with as many as 17 IEP's.  The needs range from EBD (emotional & behavioural difficulties) to SLDs (severe learning disabilities) and of course, there are some gifted & talented.

Today, Sarah Ebner of Times School Gate fame, raises the question of inclusion and whether or not it's working in UK schools.  As a parent and journalist on all issues education related, Sarah knows what it's really like in British schools:
"None of us wants our precious child sitting next to the difficult child at school. But this creates its own problems - what to do with the badly behaved and how not to write them off. Often the good, well behaved child, is put next to the difficult one, in the hope that their positive behaviour will rub off. This may be good for the naughty child, and for the class. I'm not sure it's good for the well behaved child (and I say this as a parent whose child often seems to be put next to the loud, misbehaving boy). It's all rather complicated, but that doesn't mean we should rush to the most popular conclusions (getting rid of the difficult and not caring what happens to them)."
Some of our teachers work in separate SEN schools for students with EBD, but many of our teachers work in mainstream schools where everyone is included.  I taught in mainstream schools myself, and can tell you that students with behavioural difficulties are in almost every class I taught in.  Their behaviours vary (often on a minute by minute basis), but I can tell you that chairs are thrown, children hide under their desks, recycling bins are kicked, shouting & yelling is normal (whether by the student or the teacher at the end of their wits...).

So my question for you is - what should the UK do?  

As Canadian or American teachers working in the UK, I'm sure many of our readers have very strong opinions about this very issue.  Here's your chance to add your voice to the heated discussion.  Should the students with EBD be sent away, perhaps to EBD schools or left at home, or should schools include everyone?

If you could "fix" the UK education system, what would you do?  Or perhaps, you think it's not broken at all?  Please share your thoughts below.

Also, please read Sarah Ebner's article to get more insight into this discussion and debate.

Useful Resources:
Classroom Canada Website
Guide to Teaching in London: A Survival Guide for Canadians by Yours Truly
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  1. I was in favor of inclusion before I came here and still in favor of it now! I think what needs to change is the attitude in schools towards children who are "challenging".

    maybe I'm too naiive or soft-hearted, but I really believe that all kids can benefit from a classroom setting and that given the right (positive) support they can grow into more self-controlled individuals who have a better shot at a decent future.

    I also understand why some parents of kids who are "good" wouldn't want their children to mix with those who are "bad". but the two are going to end up meeting eventually, so why not learn how to co-exist while they're young? inclusion teaches problem-solving, tolerance and respect.

    i work one-on-one with a boy who is considered very challenging. he often disrupts the class by yelling, kicking, throwing things, etc. and it is INCREDIBLE to see how the other kids don't even bat an eye, they just carry on with their work or go and ask him why he's upset (even though they know he most likely won't tell them) and if he wants to sit with them.

    it's very easy for parents or people who aren't in the schools to say that a child like him isn't good for the others in the class, but if they could see the progress he has made socially and how caring the other children are towards him, maybe they would think twice.

  2. Inclusion is a great idea in theory but in practice Local Authorities use it purely to save money ; closing expensive Special Schools and/or getting them to take the really difficult pupils and putting the SEN children into mainstream.

    The problem is that most LAs don't provide any money, time, resources, support or anything for these children ; they are just dumped there and the teachers are told to get on with it (hence the common line in statements along the lines of "resources to be provided from funds devolved to the school").

    There are also ridiculous levels of inclusion ; viz. pupils with virtually no communication, or who need a near nursing environment, or who require massive levels of intervention to achieve, or who are so behaviourally disordered they are potentially very dangerous.

    LA people do not care about any of this as long as they can save money and blame someone else.

    There is also a vast difference between inclusion in Primary, which sometimes works, and inclusion in Secondary, which is often abandonment.

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience with us Amie. It sounds like the boy in your class is making incredible progress & he's very fortunate to have you with him. Well done!

    What is the age group? It will be interesting to see primary vs secondary opinions on this issue as I imagine it's very different for each.

  4. Hi Paul - thanks for sharing that insight. Are you a British teacher in a secondary school? It would be interesting to see where you're coming from in the debate. Sounds like you might be secondary, which is very different than primary indeed.

    Such an interesting discussion here. Keep those opinions coming!

  5. yep, year one! I haven't been in a secondary school so I haven't been able to see if or how it works there, but primary kids (the ones i work with anyway) handle inclusion no problem! it's the adults that can't handle it (in my very humble opinion).

  6. Hi Victoria,

    I feel that in secondary school with large class sizes it does not benefit the students as well as hoped. I think it is wonderful in smaller class sizes (25 and under). However, in large class sizes in secondary with differentiation for language learners, two genders, a myriad of abilities, and sight/hearing problems, the teacher is stretched thin and many students do not get the care and attention needed.

  7. I'm a big fan of inclusion where proper support networks are put into place. Unfortunately, since teaching in the UK, I don't believe that is always the case. In terms of my class, I find the behaviour is not a huge hurdle to jump. However, there are 13 IEPS and 3 statemented children. I've got students with a range of difficulties. Now, I absolutely believe that they should be included and are able to work in a mainstream classroom with support. However, I have no TA with me for either Literacy or Maths. That leaves a good handful of children who are unable to work independently not getting the support they need, and as a result not reaching their full learning potential.


Thanks for sharing your two pence!


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