Why is an inclusive culture so important for ensuring progress for all?

Updated: Jul 15

Appropriate strategies are vital for ongoing inclusive practice, both in tackling barriers to learning and to develop core social skills and attitudes to enable students to grow to be active in a socially just society (Bierman, 2004).

Although there is debate as to what effective inclusive practice is, there are areas of agreement amongst professionals about what it is not (Mitchell et. al., 2020) and what the aims are. This is particularly helped by the UNESCO definition (2005 and 2017) which has informed Government Policy for the Equality Act 2010 and the introduction of Pupil Premium. However, the key issue of the Policy-Practice Gap (Mitchell et. al., 2020) has led to on-going calls for better handling by public bodies, (Dukes et. al., 2009) alongside quality CPD for teaching staff. Within this, there is a growing recognition that intervention strategies will be different in different contexts and educational philosophies (Makoelle 2014). Over the last 20 years, foci have moved between inner city schools and rural and coastal schools as to which require the most improvement for the best outcomes for their students, but common barriers to tackle often include low socio-economic status, poor funding-formulae and a higher proportion of engagement issues by both families and students. To tackle these effectively, appropriate intervention strategies must be effective for inclusive practise (Counsel 2018) with inclusion being a whole-school Vision and ethos.

Barriers across the UK are broadly similar; large class sizes, negative attitudes, exam-focussed curricula, ridged teaching pedagogies, assessment of SEN by the medical model and a lack of student and parent engagement (Mitchell et. al., 2020). Mitchell et. al., (2020) describe how engaging parents and communities foster an inclusive vision within a school community; parents who feel that a school’s inclusion is good report favourably about schools having high and positive expectations of their children, having accessible environments, specialists and excellent behaviour management, which can be evidenced in some schools by a policy shift towards Pupil Passports. Particularly important are teachers modelling social acceptance of all students, regardless of SEN, gender, race, sexuality or socio-economic background. This is a challenge when dealing with poor behaviour, hence the need for a strong behavioural culture and tradition within a school, to allow teachers to achieve this (Mitchell et. al., 2020) within classrooms.

Creating and supporting a safe classroom environment and staff training on classroom control is crucial for effective learning and inclusion. This needs to be a mutual cooperation between teacher and school; a teacher who feels criticised for using the behaviour system is likely to have behaviour problems, whilst a teacher whose behaviour management is usually excellent, if put in to a school culture which does not support this, is likely to lose that edge. Whatever the school’s educational philosophy, classroom management which creates a positive and safe environment will foster a more genuinely inclusive culture. Lemov (2012) supports safe classroom spaces for effective listening, questioning, debate, group work or peer learning without risking students losing focus on their learning are all part of the ideal inclusive classroom climate, with positive behaviour and engagement of a variety of types being rewarded. J Lorch (2016) advocates this, supporting early intervention of students with behavioural problems and identifying causes by having a clear and evenly distributed system of consequences and relevant discussions, whilst also allowing teachers to build relationships with everybody in each class. Glenn’s (2007) research showed that students identified as at risk of failure by their teachers were even less likely to spend time in quality dialogue with the teacher or peers than their peers with disabilities or other barriers identified as SEN; this risks the entrenching academic and societal gaps, therefore for learning and reducing peer rejection and bullying through teacher modelling and swift intervention for inclusive education.

However, even with there is strong and inclusive behaviour culture, a significant philosophy - delivery gap is a significant barrier (Dukes et. al. 2009) which is partly due to conflicting demands. Staff are to achieve the simultaneous aims (Jordan A, et al., 2010) of supporting students through their whole learning journey to access and succeed with very narrow summative assessment at GCSE, whilst teaching inclusively to develop students’ key second-order concepts and abilities in order to have equity in education and social justice in society. A love of learning and confidence is key, not simply education as vehicles for exam success (Counsel 2018), which often inhibits the implementation of Mitchell et. al.,’s (2020) focus on the 5As as indicators for inclusive practice, including adaptive curricula and assessments to understand and develop different intelligences in different children, (Nind et. al., 2003).

Curriculum is also an, if not the, effective space for specific interventions and inclusions, as cited by Mitchell et. al., (2020). This is supported by a move to transform teaching by the likes of Counsel (2018) and Forrest (2013) to address inadequacies in curricula design, such as the Disability Invisibility (Forrest 2013) whereby not only were issues such as gender, disability or race frequently treated as separate from the main learning, but also seen through use of language which could exclude. This has been the focus of research by the Historical Association (2019) as to why BAME students are significantly under-represented within History academic qualifications at all levels. Therefore, to achieve effective interventions for inclusive education, designing effective and relevant curricula, including bringing the abstract and making it relevant to all students is especially important for those who are socio-economically challenged or/in addition to having an SEN. Counsel (2020) advocates an increased use of the Enquiry Question method for designing effective and inclusive curricula within, but not exclusively to, History teaching; when students know why as well as what they are studying, they will be more engaged and have more agency within the classroom.

Conversely, SAGE has advocated the need to address the gap between the philosophy and the delivery of effective curricula and interventions for inclusive environments as coming from governments in a more effective manner than is currently the case (Dukes et. al., 2009), feeling that changes and developments within schools cannot work in isolation, therefore proper policy, rather than rhetoric and the superimposing of new policy on to old, is desperately needed. Current styles of summative assessment at 16 leaves less time for a connective pedagogy for the benefit of all learners (Makoelle 2014), and sees a move back towards subtly exclusive practises, such as overuse of the differentiated work sheet where it is not appropriate, for example for a vision based IEP or EAL student, these, in an obvious way, set apart some students from the rest.

This is linked to a controversial question of teacher success and how it is measured, with the SET (2010) observation that the current methods of measuring teacher efficacy ignore the value of teachers who successfully teach students who would, without these teachers, have been disenfranchised and denied an active role in social and accountable democracy and justice. SET (2010) raises more awkward questions with regards to whether the teachers who achieve best results overall are also the best with those students at risk of marginalisation within society; effective modelling, timing of addressing misconceptions and student engagement throughout the lesson are some of the criteria by SET (2010) for effective and timely intervention and inclusion.

The SET (2010) showed that one quarter of teachers viewed a child’s disability as the barrier to learning which needed to be fixed, resulting in the differentiated resource effect, whilst only one fifth viewed educational difficulties as created by a society designed for the more able (Makoelle 2014). This balance is shifting in the right direction, away from the medical model (Makoelle 2014) but it by no means complete. This is seen in the dual gap of the gender gap and the socio-economic gap for boys from different socio-economic backgrounds, Knight and Richards (2008) argue that this is because academic careers support and promote the white, male perception of success which disproportionately disadvantages women, socio-economically challenged men and ethnic minorities. Some of this is based on proportions of students who take up subjects like Hair and Beauty versus Electronics, but how much of this is based on actual preference, admissions patterns (Holberg 1982) or an underlying societal attitude is difficult to work out. Indeed, Chevaier (2007) also comments on this when discussing the pay-gap; if part of the pay gap is to do with societal attitudes, then legislation alone cannot change it.

Schools and teachers should be doing all they can to mitigate this; from differing role models, inclusive language, and discouraging the stereotype as girls as quiet book readers and boys as boisterous (Chevalier 2007). Not only does this potentially disadvantage girls in their careers - a general expectation that they will work harder for the same or less recognition - it also disadvantages socio-economically challenged boys, often white (Kalish 2006). Low-expectations of boys, who are statistically more likely to find school a waste of time, misbehave, and have a wide literacy gap, coming to its widest at age 16 – GCSE time, (Kuper et. al., 2018) causes many boys to drop out at the age of 16. Kuper et. al., (2018) also show that where socio-economically challenged boys can continue in education past the age of 16, the gap closes. The language gap and careful use of language is, therefore, crucial to intervention and inclusion; Voltz et al. (2001) encourages ensuring class projects show each student how to have a meaningful role and to ensure all students can access the language used in the lesson. Therefore, focussing on etymology and breaking down and Tier Two language as well as an understanding of cognitive load (Cowan, 2001) is key to inclusive practice.

Just as Every Child Matters (DfES 2003) sought to redress a balance that children had become historically disempowered, this disenfranchisement moves through the generations and has become a community issue. Therefore, it is necessary for intervention strategies within the every department in all schools to be always developing and adaptive, as Gibson et. al., (2009) argued, that proper relationships and strategies would throw light on hidden societal structures which prevent social mobility, and so ongoing inclusive practice can lead to proper change and social justice.

Mrs A






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All views expressed are those of the individual contributors and do not claim to reflect the wider views of EdGE Thinking. 

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