I always have a wry smile when school leaders tell me about how inclusive their school is and how they personalise the learning for all. I’m even more amused when they go on to tell me how wonderful the alternative provision is in the local area for those children who ‘struggle’. I become hysterical when they tell me the children walk in silence between lessons and are always polite. Recently I was told ‘AP’ was the safety net for disaffected children and its important they have time to reflect and get the 121 attention they need. Well……maybe as I reach my 5th decade, I’m getting intolerant but I think this approach to educating ‘tricky’ children is well past its sell by date as an adequate leadership response. I’m not advocating we shouldn’t have AP but I am advocating that schools should do more to be inclusive. Why do I think this?
I’ve always believed in schools being inclusive organisations since my NQT year back in the early 1990s. This term ‘Inclusion’ is used often in education and is banded about as a badge of honour. It should be at the heart of the DNA of all schools. For me, a curriculum offer should be a curriculum of opportunity for all. For me, pastoral support is for all. For me the leadership challenge of school leaders is about offering the climate and conditions where ALL children can thrive. That’s the real challenge for school leaders. Never giving up on a child. To me that’s pretty inclusive. Oh….and when parents come in, don’t treat them as if they are coming to a prisoner visit meeting. Warmth and welcoming approaches do wonders for relationship building. When I set up a brand new school in 2014, I wanted it to feel like a family – where everyone mattered and where everyone was not equal but of equal value. This mind set of inclusive education exists in many schools but sadly the notion of being inclusive is being eroded by the need to balance a child’s education and welfare with league table positions.
As a result, we have the absurd situation where school leaders are actively off-rolling children to private AP providers or indeed to family homes to complete their education. This practice, often labelled as ‘personalised’ learning I would argue is bordering on criminal. For the sake of reputation protection, some school leaders are systematically dumping children on the scrap heap in the quest for good exam results or that elusive Good or outstanding Ofsted judgement. What kind of educational system have we created? A free market – ‘Wild west’ I would argue, where anything can go as long as you are not caught.
My message to school leaders who don’t believe in the notion of inclusion and are off-rolling and neglecting the needs of individual children is clear:
- Off-rolling marginalises the very young people who are often disenfranchised from society
- Off-rolling impacts on mental health and well-being for individual children
- Off-rolling is allowing perverse financial incentives for unscrupulous AP providers to cash in
- Off-rolling is not inclusive but excludes a child from a decent education experience
IF WE REALLY WANT TO TRANSFORM THE LIFE CHANCES FOR ALL CHILDREN THROUGH EDUCATION, THEN WE REALLY DO NEED TO BE INCLUSIVE.
In England, the white working class have the poorest educational attainment and achievement. They are most at risk of off-rolling. They are most at risk of crime and poverty. They are most at risk of lower life expectancy. They certainly live life on the margins financially. An inclusive education is the passport and road map to exiting such a bleak life which no one deserves. Every school leader has a moral duty to be inclusive.