In 21st century classrooms, there are more and more children coming from much more diverse backgrounds. Teachers need to teach these children with effective teaching methods and must therefore have pedagogical approaches that deepen their cultural understanding. Many of these children have a range of ability in language, abilities and culture. Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE) stated that teachers must employ not only theoretically sounds but also culturally responsive pedagogy. Teachers must create a classroom culture where all children, regardless of their cultural or linguistic backgrounds are welcomed and supported and provided with the best learning opportunity.
What is inclusion?
Inclusive education is concerning equality and human rights. Inclusion is more than an understanding and a policy requirement. It is on the subject of respect and values which welcomes diversity in the classroom and a wider part of society. The inclusion statement n the National Curriculum (DfEE/QCA 1999) stated that differentiation from a wide variety of needs and the planning of lessons to ensure access and participation was part of normal teaching. This point was further emphasised by Overall & Sangster (2007) saying that it is about meeting the different needs of as many children as possible in mainstream schooling.
What are equal opportunities?
Equal opportunities are about being inclusive and fair in the way you deal with all children. Treating all children the same is not enough. Overall & Sangster (2007) define fair to be when the teacher meets the needs of every child as far as they can.
What is diversity?
Diversity is something that is becoming more and more popular in the classroom. In simple terms, diversity just means that are is a variety of different types of children in the classroom. Not only is it a professional standard to develop an understanding of the cultural diversity in their class but it is also a legal requirement (Children Act, 1989, 2004), but are these legal requirements being met?
Are these evident in schools?
Figures from the Department for Children, Schools and Families show that last year saw the biggest year-on-year increase in pupils from ethnic minorities. Across the country, they accounted for almost 22% in 2007 compared to 20.6% in 2006. From these figures it is clear to see that inclusion, equal opportunities and diversity are part of the ‘norm’ classroom and need to be therefore addressed appropriately.
I will now discuss what it means for a school to be inclusive and if a school is ‘effective’ does it mean that it has to be inclusive as well? I will also look at barriers to learning and how they are overcome.
It is important for schools to be inclusive. Hayes (2004) believes that inclusion is best understood as an aim, aspiration or even a philosophy, rather than as a set of techniques that can be applied to a situation. It is important for a school to aim to be inclusive to everyone in the school, whether this is towards children, teachers or other members of staff. Inclusion tends to be regarded as ‘the right thing to do’ and it is this moral imperative than often makes teachers feel guilty about saying anything negative about inclusive policies and practices. It is important to remember that a positive attitude to inclusion has an impact on the process of developing inclusive teaching strategies (Halliwell, 2003). As a trainee teacher, it is important for me to understand that inclusion is a process that is influenced by a number of different factors and has a different meaning for everyone involved.
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From experience, I have seen inclusion being carried out. This occurred during assembly when the whole school came together for their Friday ‘celebration assembly’. During this assembly, birthdays were announced and the children came to the front. All teachers and children joined in with singing happy birthday while as the same time signing it. This was a lovely experience to observe. The school as a whole were including everyone. Although there are many different indicators of inclusion to reflect on such as policies, practises and experiences of individuals learning, it is also my aim to carry these out. Such policies include Inclusive Schooling (DfES 2001b). This document provides practical advice to schools and LEA’s on the inclusion framework and sets out seven principles of an inclusive education service.
The Every Child Matters Policy (DfES 2003, 2004a, 2004b) has according to Arthur, Grainger and Wray (2006) ‘served to set educational inclusion within the broader context of radical change in the whole system of children’s services including explicitly shifting from intervention to prevention with services working together more effectively’. The overall aim of Every Child Matters is to reduce the number of children who experience educational failure, engage in offending or antisocial behaviour, suffer from ill health or become teenage parents (DfES 2003). The Every Child Matters aims are said to be at the heart of Children Act 2004 (Arthur, Grainger and Wray 2006).
Finally, according to Overall and Sangster (2007) the idea of an inclusive school is one that will meet the needs of many pupils in a variety of ways; within special classes, through support for individuals, differentiation in the curriculum and carefully thought through teaching, is an exciting idea. This is something that I should really develop as part of my philosophy of inclusive education.
Inclusion is about looking for ways of reducing the barriers to learning that may exist for children who present more challenging circumstances. Prejudice and stereotyping are often significant in creating and maintaining these barriers (Overall and Sangster 2007).
Within The National Curriculum (DfEE/QCA 1999) three principles were set out to develop a more inclusive education. Within these principles, the third is to ‘overcome potential barriers to learning and assessment for individuals and group of pupils’. These groups of pupils can range from SEN to EAL to Gifted and Talented. Overcoming barriers is further emphasised in Inclusive Schooling (DfES 2001b) with one of the principles stating ‘schools, local education authorities and others should actively seek to remove barriers to learning and participation’.
Overcoming potential barriers to learning and assessment is relevant to all children who have already been identified to have an emotional, mental or physical need. Teachers must plan to meet these needs and also the needs of the rest of the class at the same time. One method of doing this is to pair a pupil with EAL with a pupil who is good at English. Peer encouragement is a great way of encouraging talk. I witnessed an example with an emotionally vulnerable child. This particular child was getting frustrated and upset when they couldn’t do their times tables because other pupils around the table were counting aloud and therefore interfering with this pupil’s train of thought. To resolve this problem, the pupil was sent into a quieter room where there was full concentration of the subject. As a trainee teacher, I need to plan my lessons which overcome barriers which I may face in delivering a lesson or scheme of work.
Schools should all have an inclusion, equal opportunities and diversity policy in place and one that is being actively carried out by all pupils and members of staff. It is important that I am positive about the right for all children to be valued and to receive the best education available for them. This can be helped by implementing and receiving guidance from local education authorities or attending extra training days. From reading I have learnt to develop my own pedagogy with regard to inclusion, equal opportunities and diversity. As a training professional I have a unique opportunity to contribute to developing my own personal practice and help with developing policies with other colleagues. My aim now is to need all the needs of the children who I will be teaching both on placement now and in the future with my own class of children.
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