A better inclusion discussion

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Inclusion is a worthwhile goal for any education system. If we are in favour of inclusion then we are in favour of ensuring that schools make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the needs of children with a diverse range of disabilities and disorders. Not only is this likely to be good for these children, it is likely to benefit the wider school population by exposing them to different perspectives. I think that we can all agree on this.

The fact that inclusion is a moral good perhaps leads some of its proponents into an overzealous form of advocacy. When inclusion is seen to fail then it is because it is not proper inclusion. Anyone who highlights challenges or raises questions is treated as if they are morally questionable. Inclusion is seen as a rights-based movement, similar to the civil rights movement in 1960s America. But this is not an accurate picture.

When advocates propose a ‘bill of rights’ for excluded students, it is worth asking why it should stop there. Why not have a bill of rights for all school children? I can think of a few important rights: The right to safety; the right to freedom from harassment and bullying; the right to an education free of disruption. However, as is often the case, it is clear that the rights of different individuals may come into conflict. The right of one child to be included in a classroom may conflict with the right of another child to freedom from harassment.

This is because some children suffer from disorders and disabilities that affect their behaviour; disorders such as ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) and Conduct Disorder (CD). There is ample room for discussion about the nature of these conditions but, whatever your standpoint, it is a fact that they are often associated with troubling and disruptive behaviour. ODD and CD are quite clearly defined by it. These behaviours may then impact on the experiences of other children.

Simply asserting the right for all children to be included is not helpful because it does not take account of the effect of troubling behaviour on other students. Instead, advocates of inclusion should demonstrate how to include students with various disabilities and disorders. They should run trials to demonstrate the effectiveness of these approaches. If, as many appear to believe, a non-punitive approach is the best way to include children with behavioural difficulties then they should demonstrate this by running high-quality, preregistered, randomised controlled trials (RCTs) in real classrooms. They could compare a wide range of approaches against each other and a control, measure numbers of behavioural incidents, survey student and teacher perceptions and monitor academic outcomes. No one trial would be definitive, but as a body of work this would increase our knowledge of the best way to include as many students as possible.

This would be a worthwhile use of time and energy, far superior to vociferously asserting that education systems have a moral obligation to do things that education systems don’t know how to do.

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6 thoughts on “A better inclusion discussion

  1. The general “solution” to the problems you outline above that is generally offered by the inclusion advocates is greater in-class support of the STLD kind. But there’s only so much of this that you can realistically offer – and there’s also the issue of it becoming seen in some ways as *a reward* for misbehaviour rather than a sanction.

    1. I’ve rarely seen a badly behaved child, if ever, like in-class support. I’ve seen many fight it vociferously (making their behaviour more disruptive). It’s hard to be even a bit naughty, as most kids are, if you have an adult at your elbow.

      Good kids like in-class support.

      To me the issue is that the problem is “solved” when in-class support is given. Yet it addresses only the symptoms, at best, of poor behaviour.

      At worst it makes my job more difficult when the person hired has less ability to control the child than I do (really good support is hard to find, as people good at it tend to be already teachers themselves). I’ve been in that place several times, so that now I am managing two problems.

      Is their evidential support for in-class support of behaviour?

      1. Yes. The DISS study by Blatchford. It doesn’t turn out the way most expect , it shows reduced outcomes for supported students but be careful not to wallow in your own biases as their is more to it.

        First my background. I have 2-3 support in most of my classes and the quality varies immensely. Only in the last few years have I mastered how to use them semi-effectively (turns out staff like explicit teaching as much as the students) though our institutional policies run counter to my preferences (assigning to students rather then staff, not specialising support). This is likly because our support team have not read the DISS study, though it is briefly mentioned on the PGCE.

        The issue is that in general support replaces rather then adds to teaching in the classroom. (This was in mainstream secondary classrooms which apparently invalidates it completely in SEN classes in a college.)
        Note: Out of classroom support is much more positively rated.. Blatchford has followed up on his research by looking at response to intervention programs and other ideas to improve this situation, he is also very pro-support (often to the point of suggesting impractical solutions that shifts more work to teachers). There was another study (which was less rigorous) that correlated more support with better average outcomes for all students. The authors did not believe this contradicted the DISS study (which while observational was very thorough – the book is worth a read). They hypothesized that support lowered the outcomes of supported students but increased the outcomes of unsupported students who received more teacher attention.

        Personally I have encouraged our support manager to try the attaching support to teachers so they can develop synergy and prevent over utilization and possessiveness by staff. He also runs support workers by me now and tries to avoid math-phobic staff (that used to be a massive issue).

        I would also like to see a portion of support trained in evidenced interventions and used to deliver them to my students. Our dyslexia support team doesn’t work with my level of students. Take a moment to scream and let it out of your system. Moving jobs such as resource management, minibus driving and other non-teaching jobs seems to work in schools as well. My college refuses to do this. Likely due to how they fund support.

        Support are often inconsistently trained (or not at all) and the training is rarely in line with teacher training. Butting aside the objections to PGCE curricula it would be helpful if we used the same terminology and had the same implied objectives. (Many focus on their student rather then the group).

        To be clear I have got better at utilizing support but I now get first pick and have been able to build up clear expectations. (Obviously someone else gets last pick). Teaching more explicitly has also prevented support misunderstanding tasks or requiring fast amounts of prep (which invariably reduces time used to teach students). Most of the research however is nor read (I am a few years out of date as well) and no-one seems overly concerned with its implications. (In fact like most ideas it is misquoted and misunderstood).

        Apologies if I got carried away this is close to my heart.

      2. I take that as support can work, but generally doesn’t. Seems not too unlikely.

        The realities of poorly paid and trained staff not being much help is my general experience.

        Nevertheless, it’s not really what I asked. Is in-class support useful for *behavioural* issues?

      3. I am not sure the idea of behavioral issues can be separated from general support. And I don’t now of any good quality research looking at specific types of in-class support. In my personal experience 1:1 is now used most often with behavioral students rather then students with learning difficulties (but they often co-exist) this is just my impression though. If I am correct then the results of the studies I mentioned are relevant to in-class behavioral support, though the cohort also includes students with learning difficulties or both. Not ideal but I think it is as close as we can currently get.

        If a students is supported because they don’t focus or get distracted then supports job is to correct that. As I understand it this tends to reduce the interaction with the teacher (who abdicates the responsibility to focus on others). In theses cases the student is often isolated in class, or out of class, to allow the teacher to continue with the rest of the group. The same isolating mechanism occurs when students are given different work to complete with support.

        If an organization lacks an on-call team or clear behavioral policy you have to deal with any issues yourself. My organization behaves this way. As a result sticking a support worker in the class often becomes the only other thing that can be done to allow a student to stay on the course.

        To repeat an earlier point if you can work consistently with the same support theirs (and your) effectiveness will quickly increase. Also while many support are under-qualified it is not unusual for the job to be used as a stepping stone or as a first job out of university. If you can gain some influence over who allocates support you can access some very competent staff who will end up building their idea of teaching around your practice. Rubbish as a system but potentially useful for you.

  2. I can think of a few important rights: The right to safety; the right to freedom from harassment and bullying; the right to an education free of disruption.

    Which are all enshrined (if not observed) in government educational policy.

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