The land of inclusion was discovered by political movements and legislative acts such as the Declaration of Human Rights, the Warnock Report and the Salamanca Agreement. Since the discovery, inclusion has been the focus of ‘considerable development in terms of practice, policy and research’ (Dyson et al, 2002:228) and as Pijl et al (1997) summarise, ‘inclusion has become a global agenda’. Inclusion is complex and faces many challenges, it is the purpose of this assignment to consider the extent to which inclusive practice is within a teacher’s locus of control. The teacher is situated within the ‘inclusion globe’ (Pijl et al, 1997) and amidst a range of other factors. The following assignment seeks to problematize the notion that teachers are islands adrift and alone in the pursuit of inclusive practice. It seeks to identify the other ‘islands’ or factors involved in creating the ‘inclusive globe’ with an analysis of their related tensions and challenges. The assignment uses Critical Incident Technique (CIT) as the bridge which connects the teacher island with bigger and more imposing land masses such as the curriculum, culture, collaboration and the standards agenda.
One way of gathering information is known as Critical Incident Technique (CIT). According to Flanagan (1954:1) ‘CIT consists of a set of procedures for collecting direct observations of human behaviour in such a way as to facilitate their potential usefulness in solving practical problems’. Authors such as McAteer et al (2010:107) suggest that ‘a critical incident is one that challenges your own assumptions or makes you think differently’. A critical incident serves as a foundation for a deeper understanding and Lister and Crisp (2007) believe that it is not the incident itself which is important but the individual’s ‘critical skills’ which can then be used in continuous reflective practice. Whilst critical incidents prove a rich source of data, some academics have criticised CIT on its lack of reliability and validity claiming that incidents can be interpreted and misunderstood (MyCriticalAssignment, No Date). The selection of CIT is endorsed by Trip (2003:408) who states that ‘sometimes the best analysis can come from those who opinions we do not usually consider, such as fellow teachers or parents’ and that ‘teachers can increase the understanding of practice and inform our actions and professional judgements’.
The context revolves around the claim that to be inclusive one needs to have more ‘presence’ in order to manage behaviour effectively. From the outset the incident sparked intrigue and interest which led to experiencing a number of thoughts and feelings. A sense of contradiction in terms of my values as a teacher and attitudes towards inclusion. The persevering and long-lasting thought was that being inclusive cannot surely be the sole responsibility of the teacher. I ruminated as to the other factors involved in the inclusion process and the associated issues and tensions. I projected that a better understanding of the factors involved could help all professionals working in education, which is what McAteer (2010:107) referred to when he stated that CIT makes one ‘think differently’ and which can then be used as a basis to improve future practice. Likewise, the fact that I was teaching in a special school where learners have already been excluded, perhaps on multiple occasions only added fuel to my intrigue. In addition issues such as the growing rates of exclusion, the marketization of education, the standards agenda and even the curriculum added complexity to the picture. I sought feedback from colleagues at school and at university with a view to gaining different insights and direction as to use as a foundation for research in the literature. It was then possible to create a title for my assignment and to start to critically analyse the key themes and issues from an inclusion standpoint.
It would be useful at this point to provide a definition of inclusion even though it has a notoriety of being expressed in different ways by many different authors. As Snyder et al (2010:38) state ‘there is no clear consensus about what, in fact, inclusion is’. Nonetheless, inclusion is the view that all young people are entitled to access education, a paradox to young people being ‘segregated’, seen as being ‘abnormal’ and as a threat to ‘human purity’. One definition given by Allan (2003:173) encapsulates my thoughts towards inclusion as a movement of valuing difference, equality and that which is a continual ‘process’ towards a destination of full inclusion. ‘Inclusion has to be seen as a never – ending search to find better ways of responding to diversity. It is about learning how to live with difference and, learning how to learn from difference, in this way differences come to be seen more positively as a stimulus for fostering learning, amongst children and adults’. A vague definition provides no specifics as to what inclusion actually looks like hence Booth and Ainscow (2002) citing that an inclusive school includes the school curricula, policies and cultures about valuing diversity and celebrating difference. The literature confirms that in fact teachers aren’t islands and that there are a number of factors involved in creating inclusion. Some features are born and live inside a school and some are external, fixed and act like the skeleton that gives the body rigidity but, nonetheless with its limits. The factors or ‘islands’ are not mutually exclusive and co-exist in the same space and influence each other, some for better and others for worse.
One of the factors, which is foreign born (outside the school), imposing and discriminatory is the curriculum. The curriculum is like a football; it can be cleaned and polished but it will always be the same ball; akin to a teacher that can differentiate but will always be faced with the reality of assessing their learners in accordance to certain criteria. Avissar (2012:36) defines the curriculum as ‘what is valued in terms of knowledge’ and literature combined with anecdotal experiences exposes an array of issues and dilemmas. A pertinent interrogation must be an analysis of who created the curriculum and for whom. The curriculum moved to be decided by a certain cohort of individuals in central government for stated reasons of ‘continuity and coherence’ (Education England, 2008: 4) which removed decision making from local authorities. Is it possible and or feasible that central government can resonate with the enormous diversity in society? Norwich (2008) identifies the curriculum as one of the dilemmas facing those who implement inclusion. He summarises that it is made by and for a group of people whom are not represented equally throughout society and the author debates how much a ‘common curriculum’ is relevant to students with disabilities. Moreover, the standardisation of the curriculum produces as Apple (1990) states, the homogenous learner and one must question where the opportunity for diversity and difference lies. Even more detrimental than being homogenous is that the curriculum resembles a ‘judge’ which sets the boundaries in which exclusion and inclusion take place as young people who ‘resist’ the curriculum rather than ‘reproduce’ it are more likely to be excluded (Nind et al, 2005). Why such a simplistic and divisive measure? It boils down to either ‘political point-scoring’ in terms of what one government has achieved in for instance, literacy rates or to keep certain members of the community in a privileged position. It then becomes apparent that learners become ‘unattractive’ to schools because of their (in)ability to achieve a certain grade or because they have different needs. Thus typical categorisation follows which may then lead to exclusion. In addition, having a national curriculum also creates a trade-off as there has been no development of alternative curriculums as Norwich and Lewis (2001:26) state ‘there has been no systematic attempt to develop an MLD curriculum’. At the same time subjects which allow learners to express their diversity such as the arts and music are being marginalised. Jeffrey’s (2018) cited the chief Ofsted inspector who claims that ‘academic subjects are the best route to higher-level study, particularly for working-class children’. Is the government saying that certain subjects are too expensive or not worthwhile, or both? Are young people who possess such qualities thus less valuable? The national curriculum ‘impaired’ the inclusion agenda in its embryonic stage and the marginalisation of certain subjects has tightened possibilities even further. Therefore, the individual teacher may be able to remove barriers and make the subject accessible but are permanently bound by rigid ‘specifications’ which often prompt questions from learners such as ‘what is the point of (studying) this?’ I, myself have faced dilemmas where I am aware of the preferences of a learner but have to push for the bottom-line which is progression. Bigger questions then emerge as to why students and teachers haven’t been consulted in the decision making process. There are also ethical and moral questions. If a young person has suffered traumatic abuse at a young age which then may result in aggressive behaviours: is it right to push assessment when arts-based therapy would prevail? Like most written documents, the curriculum is inflexible and cannot possibly mitigate for the complexities and diversity of our young people. It is also true that in some cases having objectives and assessment may be beneficial for some individuals in helping them to reach their full potential, indeed not having a uniform curriculum could prove difficult and resource demanding. It is not a simple matter but the curriculum is significant in the inclusion process. It is the only football in the game and despite being ‘cleaned’ it often means that teachers and learners are already on a negative trajectory when it comes to inclusion. The parachute or the safety net to this downward spiral is a factor that is to an extent controllable by the school; the culture.
Culture is often described as ‘how things are done around here’ or as Kilmann, Saxton, and Serpa (1985) view it, the ‘rules of the game’. Early research into culture identified components such as traditions, beliefs, values and customs that knit a community together (Zollers et al, 2010). An inclusive school culture however consists of value-driven leadership, a broad vision of community and a shared language (2010). Value driven leadership is a thought-provoking ideal as inclusive values don’t operate in a vacuum, they run alongside and are often in confrontation with other competing pressures and policies which more often than not take precedence. Besides, this represents an optimistic view of the situation as it is reasonable to suggest that an individual who has made it to the summit of an organisation may have a different set of values and perspectives. One case cited in the literature reveals a school that has been very successful in creating an inclusive culture. The school has a leadership team which has direct personal experience of special needs. Are these two factors inconsequential or does it suggest that there is a problem with the representation of SEN and diversity at leadership levels? It is not within the possibilities of this assignment to provide an answer but it could be an interesting focus for future research. The importance of the senior leadership team cannot therefore be underestimated as Riehl (2000:58) confirms, ‘the school principal is a key participant in bringing about inclusive school change’. There is an assumption that teachers share common values but in the setting discussed the leadership team appeared to have a contradictory set of values based on ‘mainstreaminizing’ the learning environment to gain ‘results’ and ‘quantifiable progress’ hence the need to implement teacher led, dictatorial approaches to behaviour management. The result, whether intentional or not is that values are filtered down from the SLT into the school like water running down a stream from which the staff drink from. ‘Research has found that the extent to which school leaders perceived the importance of inclusive education influences school change and inclusive schooling’ (Tiadama, 2013:5). Although I stated that culture is born and lives within a school; its parent however is central government and its respective directives. In a similar fashion to a child, cultures are delicate, impressionable and change over time. It can be influenced from a whole spectrum of values and beliefs. For instance, views such as ‘I only care about his/her grade’ or ‘I don’t believe ADHD is a real thing’ might influence for the negative the community’s day to day practice. Moreover, a new teacher may arrive in a school with values conducive to inclusion but subconsciously (without realising) start to conform to ulterior norms. A teacher may challenge the culture of the school but then face being ostracised and even need leave the school in a similar manner to the reproduction v resistance battle on the curriculum ‘island’. All this is important because when we discuss the notion that ‘no teacher is an island’, teachers are often described as ‘agents of change’ (Heijden et al, 2015) in terms of inclusion. Educators are on the front line yet they operate within a culture which in a sense is the fuel which catalysts change and keeps the organisation alive (or not). To keep the school’s fire ‘burning’ it is vital that new ideas spring from classrooms in which the teachers operate. However, teachers can face blockages and resistance in the veins of the school body within power structures and hierarchies. I myself sought to introduce a new reward system into my classroom and felt opposition from leaders who may have felt ‘opposed’, ‘undermined’ or ‘challenged’. The head teacher would on face value assert that each member of staff had equal authority but in reality decisions are not taken within flat, democratic organisations. If the culture lies within the values and relationships in the school community then one cannot ignore the elephant in the room which is the performance related nature of teacher employment. The question is then can a culture be inclusive when it is built upon selfish and shaky foundations of individuality and progression? For instance, working together (termed as collaboration) is seen as integral to inclusion. It may be possible for a football club to create a strong team culture when its staff are paid immensely with ample resources to be ‘creative’, ‘open’ and ‘democratic’ but is it realistic to expect underpaid, undervalued and overworked teaching staff to work collaboratively for the greater good?
Collaboration is perhaps what Schein (1984) refers to as a ‘visible artefact’ of an inclusive culture. It has been defined as ‘a process which includes communication and decision-making, enabling a synergistic influence of grouped knowledge and skills’ (Bridges et al, 2011:11). Teachers exist every day in relationship and communication with one another; an example would be when one teacher makes off the record remarks about a certain class or individual. To understand collaboration It is first important to describe the landscape in which collaboration is present (or not). The literature points to a concept of ‘objectivism’ and ‘individualism’ which infers that professionals possess the knowledge and hold the keys to unlock the inclusion door so to speak – not to dissimilar to Ofsted believing that ‘academia’ is suitable for all students. Anyhow, collaboration is a contradiction of ‘objectivism’ as Lambert (1990, cited in Sailor 2002:122) states that ‘the emphasis on community reflects the assumption that new knowledge is constructed as a joint venture’. We cannot say therefore that teachers are or should be an ‘island’ in terms of inclusion because ‘objectivism’ is like a punctured tyre on a car holding a commuter back. We actually need and are dependent on the other islands for the sake of inclusion and our professional lives. Is objectivism it the product of a culture, society or how our schools are organised? Vrasidas (2000: 2) states that objectivism has dominated the field of education for several years and is based on traditional approaches to learning and teaching founded on behaviouristic and cognitive theories. He goes on to say that the long tradition of objectivism has its roots in standardization and task analysis to ensure the most efficient production in business and industry. The way in which schools operate Skrtic et al (1996) describe as ‘machine bureaucracies’ where operations are ‘rationalized’ and ‘formalized’ in an attempt to make work simpler and more efficient. Inclusion and working with young people is not a simple matter and as Mintzberg noted (1979, cited in Skrtic et al, 1996:145) ‘complex work cannot be rationalized’. By misunderstanding teaching as ‘simple’ it reduces teacher reflection and minimizes the degree to which teachers can adapt their practices to the needs of the student. In addition, it assumes that further rationalization and formalization (such as lesson planning) will improve the way the work gets done but in reality it drives the school further toward a machine bureaucratic structure (House, 1979). In essence we are trying to unlock the inclusion door with the wrong key. Not only is it the wrong key but we might have the wrong organisation to foster the ‘collaborative working key’. Schools are ordered in the same way a business is organised into ‘functions’. There are different subject departments which can become ‘entrenched’, ‘tribalistic’, and a spawning ground for ‘group think’. ‘It is argued that departmentalisation can lead to fragmentation of both school staff and the curriculum, thus impeding communication between all teachers’ (Vischer & Witziers, 2004:786). They conclude that teachers within departments may hold varying and sometimes even conflicting ideas and there may differences between teachers in their power and status. Inherently then collaboration faces an uphill battle. We talked about the holding the ‘wrong type of key to unlock the inclusion door’ but the collaboration key requires different materials. It requires amongst other things: time, continual professional development and a willingness to share ideas. Indeed Rose (2011) identified the throw away materials in terms of problematic power dynamics, poor communication patterns, and a poor understanding of roles and responsibilities as obstacles to successful inter-professional collaboration. I have witnessed many situations where teachers have felt ‘protective’ over sharing resources in the hunt for recognition and career advancement. The barriers to collaborative working therefore are numerous and are at a systematic, institutional and professional level. One must ask why collaborative practice hasn’t been given a greater focus and my overriding intuition is that in the battle between inclusion and the standards agenda; collaborative working has lost. It is built upon the wrong foundations and building materials and instead most of the time the focus is on standards, results and league tables. Sefton Green et al (2010: 410) point towards the dominance of the ‘standards-agenda’ and a learning environment which becomes ‘restricted’ rather than expanded because of its associated pressures.
The ‘standards agenda’ is perhaps one of the most prominent factors in the inclusion ‘continent’. It is a ‘foreign’ island but it has jurisdiction on the other islands meaning that has a far reaching and pervasive influence. It is perhaps the biggest obstacle in the way of inclusion and is defined by Wolf (2002:54) as ‘an approach to educational reforms which seeks to drive up standards of attainment’. It is representative of a ‘directive relationship between central government and schools whereby expectations are imposed upon educators that bypasses the participation of teachers in their own work and disengages schools from their local communities’ (Ainscow et al, 2006:296). The literal form of the agenda is data, inspections and reports all of which is working towards a narrow view of attainment placing students into boxes which they may break out of and a place where diversity and difference cannot be championed. Not all progress is quantifiable either – how can one measure developments in social and emotional well-being? The intangible aspect of the standards agenda is competition which is then created between all members of the school community. And so far we have seen many battles. Competition, by definition implies winners and losers and champions are normally few in quantity with the losers being numerous. Schools lose in terms of its impact on creativity, collaboration and being places of inclusive learning. Students with SEN are not viewed as ‘assets’ (Frederickson, 2009) and become liabilities if they are ‘unfortunate’ enough to possess a different set of skills and attributes. In the end society loses because cut-throat standards produces a cohort of citizens who feel undervalued and disaffected which maintains the widening equality gap. Standards themselves are not the enemy but they need to live on the inclusion island within a different habitat. One of the effects on the standards agenda is that it divides the inclusion island into ‘cities’ which referred to as ‘accountability’ and ‘evidencing’ which diminishes a teacher’s ability to provide a true inclusive and equitable education. Schools then also represent a confused vision: there are market variables at play but schools don’t operate like private enterprises who would respond with greater speed to the needs of its customers. The wave coming from the standards agenda is eating away at inclusion creating profound implications.
On this journey we have seen that the ‘teacher island’ is anchored to the other islands some of which are inhabitable for inclusion, others not. A greater understanding has made the implications for equality for all young people come to the surface. The complexity of the factors involved make the need for schools to be proactive in the search for inclusion all the more important, in particular in regards to those factors which are to a point at the behest of the school such as culture and collaboration. The presence of ’islands’ such as the standards agenda and the curriculum which have to be viewed as ‘neutral’ at best and ‘toxic’ at worst in the realm of inclusion have ramifications for now and the future. Learners will continue to be excluded and the growing rates of learners being omitted into special schools and alternative provision is surely one sign of inclusion being in ‘reverse’ and heading back towards division segregation. The trend has been noted by the BBC who report that rising numbers of secondary school pupils being excluded (a 40% increase over the last three years) has prompted Ofsted to write to head teachers (BBC, 2018). If one also considers the other side of the coin it also devalues what alternative provision exists for and creates supply issues in special settings. For those learners with unidentified ‘hidden’ or ‘invisible’ SEN, the stalling vehicle of inclusion becomes no more than an integration mobile. ‘It has often been noted that tutors may not be aware of the presence of students with hidden disabilities in their classrooms when teaching and assessment take place’ (Matthews, 2009:230). Due to the complexity of pupils’ needs teachers are required by necessity to become innovative practitioners who are continually engaged in adapting approaches and resources’ (TES, 2016). As a result it becomes apparent that limiting exposure to a variety of young people with differing needs and adopting short term exclusionary approaches may lead to schools being less able to adapt to new challenges and respond to diversity. Ironically, where answers could be found, in alternative provision, it means that specialist skills emerge but then are trapped without being filtered back into mainstream schools. It coincides with the evidence that collaborative teaching, the tool to develop inclusive practice is not being promoted or utilised. At a systematic level these implications send reverberations into wider educational issues such as teacher retention and recruitment which may continue to suffer if teachers disagree with the standards agenda or the culture of the school. Inclusion will be the loser here as many hard-working professionals with new ideas and inclusive values may be expunged from the school. Change is possible and the way forward requires the status quo to be challenged at the professional, institutional and systematic level. The inhabitants on the inclusion continent i.e. the teachers, can build on their island to make it more ‘inclusion – friendly’ by adopting a ‘positive’ position to inclusion. According to (Brown, 2016:4) ‘the term position rather than ‘perspectives’ or ‘attitudes’ is used to convey the idea of taking a stance on something’. Teachers could for instance ensure that each learner has a voice in their classroom as a means of increasing participation and to impact the power balances that can often occur within traditional classrooms (Ferguson et al, 2011: 55). At the institutional level is where we need to start living on the inclusion island. Standards are not going away but more could be done and the organisation could be restructured to involve collaboration as well as a democratic and supportive culture. The systematic level needs to ensure that there is appropriate funds available with a review of the national curriculum and whether a one size fits all approach is equitable. We could for instance create a blue print or map to guide schools to the inclusion destination. Instead of measuring ‘data’ we rated schools in terms of the values of its leadership and set about modelling inclusive cultures. We are seeing movements towards reducing teachers in particular marking but will this time be used for collaborative working or putting on extra revision sessions for GCSE examinations?
On the final stretch of this assignment I have been working for a school in Manchester with a very diverse cohort of young people. I read the Ofsted report which ‘judged’ the school to ‘require improvement’. I had a conversation with a teacher in regards to the problems in the school in relation to inclusion. The teacher drew a map of the inclusion continent by stating ‘progress, data, a one size fits all curriculum, the school not being run properly, high rates of exclusion, no teamwork and new ways of doing things’. Teachers are and should not be ‘islands’ when it comes to inclusion. The inclusion continent is a divided ‘land’ with islands such as the curriculum and the standards agenda having colonies on other natural, more inclusive islands. Those islands that originate from planet ‘neo-liberal marketization’, need to be ring-fenced and schools need to live in the ‘inclusion island’. It is time to end the ‘national’ island debate and refer to us as a ‘continent’ with greater collaboration and the promotion of an inclusive culture on the journey towards achieving inclusion.