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

Dubai's inclusive vision for education

Inclusion and wellbeing in Dubai: Gareth D Morewood reflects on Optimus' first international conference.

I am very fortunate to work with a number professionals, families and young people in the UK but also, more recently, abroad.  You can read about one of my previous visits to Chile in this blog about developing inclusive practices from an international perspective.

I have recently returned from speaking at Optimus’ debut event in Dubai, which was a fascinating first step in supporting new legislation around inclusion.

What is happening in Dubai?

'People of determination' is how the UAE has chosen to view the attributes of disabled people, as reflection of their strength of character, their perseverance and their courage. This use of language is very interesting and something I continue to consider post-visit. 

The inspiration for the development of the Dubai Inclusive Education Policy Framework can be clearly seen in a statetment by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum:

‘Determination, strategy and vision for the future are our real resources in the quest for excellence and success.’

In essence, the landscape in Dubai is changing. Schools are to be inclusive, as set out within their policy documentation. 

‘The concept of inclusive education lies at the heart of effective education. It encompasses the principles of diversity, personalisation, equity, respect, acceptance and enrichment. When we improve the quality of inclusion within our schools, we improve education for all.’

Dubai Inclusion Framework 2017(KHDA)

How did the event support Dubai’s new inclusion agenda?

This inaugural inclusion and wellbeing event was held over two days, and had a really positive vibe.  Delegates were really engaged with the content and alongside the main event, free workshops for other school staff allowed for a wider impact.

Day one focussed on how to provide a fully inclusive culture in school.

  • What does a whole school approach to inclusion look like?
  • Providing a curriculum that meets needs and supports early intervention.
  • Strategies to support staff to deliver high-quality, differentiated teaching.
  • Moving away from labels and focusing on the strengths and challenges.
  • Working positively in partnership with parents.

Day two focussed on supporting wellbeing and mental health.

  • Utilising positive psychology and positive education in the school environment.
  • Understanding the needs of third culture children and the expat child.
  • Using proven methods to respond to students with anxiety or depression.
  • Supporting the mental health and wellbeing of staff.
  • Building resilience and self-esteem amongst children and young people.

Important messages

My first input was as part of a panel debate about the leadership of inclusive schools.  I have written about this recently in Great Expectations, David Bartram’s excellent book. 

My thoughts on ‘corporate responsibility’ as part of a whole school approach may not be how everyone views ‘leadership’ per se, however being inclusive shouldn’t be just about the young people. Surely it should be about the staff and families too?

During the debate I suggested that ‘holding people to account’ may be the wrong language for truly inclusive systems.

Three years ago I compiled a post with many contributors talking about inclusion and what it meant to them. This is why, in my view, any such philosophy needs to be rooted in policy (as the UAE have clearly set out). 

Although this is the start of a journey, after spending a few days in Dubai, I saw that there was a real desire and skill to ensure positive steps are made towards implementation. This is most definitely a ‘watch this space’ as things continue to move forward.

Stress, emotional regulation, low arousal and whole school approaches

My main focus at the event was delivering an hour long workshop from the new one-day course I have developed in partnership with Studio III

The workshop drew on the 'saturation model' (Morewood et al, 2011) developed by myself and colleagues as part of a whole-school approach to supporting autistic students in mainstream schools, combined with emotional regulation and low arousal approaches developed by Studio III (McDonnell & Deveau, 2018).

The workshop considered the challenges young people face in educational settings and in their community, and provided clear strategies that are proven to have a significant impact upon learning, engagement and the reduction of concerning behaviours. It focussed on:

  • individual students’ areas of need
  • classroom pedagogy
  • whole-school approaches as identified in the research
  • the development of an understanding of stress, emotional regulation and arousal.

This was very well received as part of the wider conference, but specifically with regard to the new policy regarding inclusion.

Being inclusive should not just be about the child, but about the staff and family too

During the event I was able to record a short interview with Dr Pooky Knightsmith summarising the approach.

Ways forward

This was very much the starting point for new ways of working in Dubai and the UAE, and this inclusive journey will be one I follow with great interest. I hope that further posts from colleagues working within the educational system can share their experiences and learning. 

Further reading

More from Optimus


  • McCreadie, M and McDermott, J. (2014). ‘Tuning In’ client practitioner stress transactions in autism. In G Jones and E Hurley, (Eds.) GAP: autism, happiness and wellbeing, BILD publications, pp24-31.
  • McDonnell, A. A., Waters, T., and Jones, D. (2002). Low arousal approaches in the management of challenging behaviours. In D. Allen (Ed) Ethical approaches to physical interventions: Responding to Challenging behaviours in people with Intellectual Disabilities. Plymouth: BILD, pp. 104 – 113.
  • McDonnell, A, A., McCreadie, M., Mills, R., Deveau, R., Anker, R., and Hayden, J. (2015). The role of physiological arousal in the management of challenging behaviours in individuals with autistic spectrum disorders. Research in Developmental Disabilities, 36, 311-322.
  • McDonnell, A.A. (2010). Managing aggressive behaviour in care settings: Understanding and applying low arousal approaches Oxford: Wiley Publications.
  • Morewood, G. D. (2018) in Bartram, D. Great Expectations: leading an effective SEND strategy in school. John Catt Publications.
  • Morewood, G. D. (2019) Understanding Emotional Regulation in the Context of Whole School Inclusive Systems. INCLUVISION Magazine, published by JSS School, Dubai.
  • Woodcock, L., and Paige, A. (2010) Managing family meltdown. London UK: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.




Similar Posts

Gareth D Morewood

Low Arousal experiences during lockdown: learning from a family perspective

Gareth D Morewood seeks first-hand experiences from families and draws out five positive lessons to take forward in practice. The recent months have been extremely challenging for everyone across the globe. The word unprecedented is often used, but rarely warranted. I think it is justified with...
Gareth D Morewood

Listening to the voices of young people: understanding stress

Gareth D Morewood reminds us of the importance of having simple strategies to manage stress and create a low arousal culture in schools. Towards the end of the last year I was fortunate to deliver some workshops on stress and wellbeing to two groups of young people organised by the charity...
Gareth D Morewood

Autism and inclusion in a mainstream secondary school

Gareth D Morewood reflects on how his previous school has successfully created an inclusive environment for their pupils with autism. During my last year as SENCO, my school was fortunate to be part of the Autism Education Trust (AET) good practice case studies . The case studies highlight eight...