The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Gareth D Morewood

Developing inclusive practice: an international perspective

No matter where you are, the hallmarks of inclusive practice remain the same. Gareth explains why shared responsibility and a clearly articulated vision are paramount.

I have been very fortunate to work with a number of different schools in the UK and further afield. I write this from Santiago, Chile, where I am assisting an international school with the development of inclusive practice.

Two years ago the Chilean Ministry of Education implemented new legislation to overhaul the country’s education system, with the aim of giving all children access to a high standard of education.

It may be a surprise to some readers that entitlement to education irrespective of need was only enshrined in Chilean law so recently, and as you might imagine there is some considerable work to be done in the years ahead.

Defining success

How you define success in your curriculum should be an important point of discussion for school leaders. 

After my first visit to Chile two years ago, I outlined some of the challenges Chilean schools face, most notably in how they define success. How a school understands success is central to how it sets aims and goals for its pupils.

A narrow, purely academic definition of success can be at best limiting and worst stifling of your pupils’ development

I have written previously about how schools can prepare young people for adult life, which means keeping further education, employment and training at the heart of its ethos for inclusion. However, the starting point must surely be articulating what success means in your school. Is it purely academic or does it have a strong emphasis on sport, or pathways to employment?

A narrow, purely academic definition of success can be at best limiting and worst stifling of your pupils’ development. Understanding what we mean by outcomes and how they translate to our view of pupils’ success should form the core set of beliefs in shifting cultures over time. What does it mean for a pupil to be successful at you school? What makes an outcome successful?

All schools exist to educate, but let’s not forget the broader importance of education through the arts, public speaking, sports, music and social enterprise. Above all, it is important for leaders never to underestimate the true value of a broad and balanced curriculum offer, even if political decisions sometimes constrain provision and limit desire.

Clear and corporate leadership

Articulating a shared vision is the first step for a successful change.

A school’s ethos is set by its leaders, but leaders are not just those in senior roles. The best provision is that made when all staff take responsibility: hierarchies are limiting while corporate responsibility is empowering. From my experience of working in a number of different schools, I strongly believe that a school can only successfully implement its vision if all staff share it and see value in it.

My recent discussions with school staff in Santiago are equally pertinent to colleagues elsewhere. In initial meetings we touched on:

  • the importance of a clearly articulated school vision
  • the importance of a shared understanding; where we are, where we want to go
  • the importance of understanding barriers to the implementation of a vision
  • the importance of admissions and the identification of specific needs.

With recent amendments to Chilean law, schools that had previously operated on their own terms will now have to change and develop if they are to meet the ‘modern needs’ of their diverse pupil populations. These changes won’t happen overnight. It’s a journey that will take time, and the right foundations are important.

Continuous professional development

Continuous professional development is essential to building capacity in your staff.

With any professional culture shift, there should always be opportunities for professional development. My recent work here has highlighted two key areas for continuous professional development: specific learning differences and language use and development.

Examining these areas of learning in the context of neurodiversity can be a challenge for staff, especially when they have not yet been exposed to the language of equality and still work with a medical model for learning. Feedback from my initial workshops helped me personalise sessions later in the week, so that training and development were appropriate to individual members of staff.

In addition to moving away from a medical model, it was clear that staff were keen to know what ‘high impact’ strategies and ‘best bets’ for learning they could take from cognitive science. Their capacity to understand and apply these ‘investments in learning’ was impressive, and will no doubt lead to more refined pedagogy in the months and years to come.

Education for all

'If children's perceptions of people who are different from themselves are based on stereotypical thinking it is likely that they will retain this misinformation for the rest of their lives unless positive steps are taken to counter this learning.'

Brown, 1998

A core component of inclusion is the notion of ‘education for all’. This could mean working directly with pupils to extend our understanding of hidden disabilities as well as helping them to better understand themselves. It could also mean taking a reflective view of the language and symbols we use to represent ourselves.

How representative are the images we use in lessons, for example? How frequently do we challenge discriminatory language as an important learning point when it arises?

I have written previously about the importance of peer education, and although I don’t suggest for one minute this is something that can be ‘done’ or ‘fixed’ in a short time frame, the inclusiveness of the curriculum should be a daily talking point if schools are to clear up any misconceptions or see any significant change over time.

A desire for change

I’m grateful to have made and to continue to make a small difference through my work in Chile, though it is very much a humble beginning as part of a much bigger picture. However, good schools are good schools wherever they are in the world.

This week has seen the first foundations laid, a clear plan and shared responsibility will see change over time. It can be done – indeed I’d like to think I’ve been doing it every day for the last two decades.

It is time we join our Chilean colleagues in asking what society we want the adults of tomorrow to live in and, most importantly how schools can make it happen.

Accrediting inclusion

The SEND Inclusion Award provides a framework for recognising outstanding SEND provision in schools, and identifying areas that have high or little impact on your pupils' outcomes.

Find out more

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