Inclusion Now Articles Issue 23
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'Make sure you find somewhere nice to work.' This gets an unexpected laugh from the group, as if the notion of 'nice places' cannot contain the school building - maybe the beach, or even the pub? But it is a beautiful, sunny early Spring day and the staff of Fellgate Primary School and Unit are soon outside, under trees, in corners of the play areas, enjoying the sun. One teacher wonders how he will explain going home from a day at work with a tan. However, this is a day at work, planned over a period of months at the request of the Head Teacher, Carol Wilson, with a clear aim - to put the building, maintenance and repair of positive relationships at the heart of the workings of the school.
Fellgate School is one of two primaries serving a large estate on the edge of Jarrow. In addition, in a separate building, it is home to a unit for children of primary school age with Autistic Spectrum Disorder which serves the whole authority. I was asked to deliver training in the school to facilitate more inclusive practice.
Carol had already taken some practical steps towards more
inclusive practice, appointing a Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator serving
both school and unit, doing joint training for staff across both sites and
increasing the opportunities for staff and pupils to interact in the classroom
and play areas. I wanted to address directly the beliefs and values that would
underpin skills and strategies that would later be introduced, and to move
away from the 'problem solving' approach of much inclusion training I had
experienced. After all, in order to take a problem solving approach something,
or someone, has to be identified as the problem.
The challenge I presented to the staff was a series of assumptions, or axioms, which offered a model of relationship based working:
The central activities of a school are teaching and learning.
For teaching and learning to happen effectively, the preferred state for all concerned is to be calm, assertive and engaged with the activities.
For this desired state to be achieved requires positive, appropriate relationships to exist between all participants.
Teaching and learning requires explicit strategies to be in place to build, maintain and repair relationships so that the desired state can be maximised.
Gaining an acceptance of the underlying assumptions of relationship
based working allowed the Fellgate staff to look more closely at their own
role in the classroom, what they wanted to achieve and the barriers, both
structural and personal, to reaching their goals. With these ideas in place
we were ready to look in more detail at what was already in place and what
was needed on the training day.
The training day began, fittingly, with breakfast being served to all staff, a practical demonstration of using a welcome to build relationships with a group. I then gave a presentation with two objectives:
1. To create a target around personal change, i.e. people coming into the school the next day with the intention of doing, saying or thinking something different and seeing what the results were.
2. To challenge the group further by introducing new language, new beliefs and new strategies for them to spend the day playing with.
The second objective involved the introduction of a 'Glossary of Relationship Based Working' - a list of concepts to further underpin the objective. The whole list was relatively lengthy, but two of the concepts became central to the day's work and stimulated the most discussion:
IMPLICATED: The state of being inevitably involved in the solution to difficulties presented by one you are in a related state to (especially those to whom you have a Duty of Care) regardless of your personal responsibility for the presented difficulty.
Being implicated is a reminder of the shared nature of dealing with threats to a productive relationship. It is not a 'flip flop' of the standard position - the problem used to lie with the child, now the problem lies with the staff - but a reflection that solutions which involve all parties are more likely to be effective than demanding that one individual spontaneously change.
PANOPLY OF NEED: The awareness of the full range of needs created by challenging behaviour and the necessity of making a response to them all, even if some are prioritised over others, in order to maintain positive relationships.
Responding to the panoply of need is good management. Difficulties create diverse needs (one child's challenging behaviour expresses their own need but can create related needs for their teacher, their classroom assistant, their peers in the class and their families for instance) and relationships suffer if they are not noted and responded to.
A strategy the Fellgate staff were asked to use was to consider their Perceptual Position. This is simpler than it sounds. In an interaction between people there is often an 'A' who has an issue or difficulty, and a 'B' who is helping to resolve it by listening, asking questions and responding. There can be a third person, 'C' who is observing from the outside and is in a good position to offer impartial feedback about how things are going. I asked the Fellgate staff not only to remember to stay in role 'B' when it is appropriate, but to mentally take the position of 'C'. We don't usually have an impartial observer to hand to offer feedback, but we do have the imagination to be able to ask 'How does this look from outside? How could I do this better?'
With these tools in place the staff were placed into four groups, each group containing people with a range of roles in the school. Our first theme was 'Building Relationships' and each group was given a domain to consider; Children with Children, Staff with Children, Staff with Staff, School and the Wider Community. Their task was to identify resources and strategies that were either in place or could be developed to consciously build relationships in their domain. Over the day we had three such sessions, mixing the groups each time, moving on to 'Maintaining Relationships' and 'Repairing Relationships.'
Each session included a period at the end for personal reflection,
where people could consider their own starting point for building, maintaining
or repairing relationships in the school.
While it was heartening to see the number and diversity of skills and strategies both in place and proposed for the domains of 'Children with Children', 'Staff with Children' and 'School and the Wider Community' the groups dealing with 'Staff with Staff' did a lot of head scratching. The poverty of explicit strategies to help staff to build, maintain and repair relationships with each other reflects a series of beliefs about the autonomy and ability of staff that perhaps need to be questioned. Some people develop extremely sensitive interpersonal skills, to deal with others, and intrapersonal skills, to understand and manage themselves without much external input and support. They have a talent for Emotional Intelligence. Others do not, and the assumption that all of a workforce automatically possess these skills leaves people vulnerable to experiencing poor relationships.
'This has made me sit back and think about certain relationships
I've got with staff and children in the class room.'
Lisa Henderson, Senior Educational Practitioner, Fellgate Autistic Unit
'This has been a long time coming, we especially need more
on staff/staff relationships.'
Sandra Godfrey, Teacher
Staff reflected how resourceless and vulnerable this lack of explicit strategies left them. Human Resources departments typically only become involved when there has been a catastrophic breakdown in relationships. The day raised awareness both of the need to share responsibilities for making relationships work and to develop a supportive structure to help staff to function at their best.
The day ended with the generation of sufficient strategies to fill several policies and a strategic plan, more than could be taken in at one sitting.
'This has been some of the hardest CPD* we have done. We realise
that it's down to us, the people here, to make this work. We are implicated
in this, it's our responsibility.'
Carol Wilson, Head Teacher, Fellgate Primary School
I left the day impressed, once again, with the willingness
of school staff to embrace change, especially when they are not simply told
'Change!', but when they are given the language and tools to understand and
Easter Parade - Teacher Unions get to grips with inclusive
Some contradictory messages emerged from the Annual Teachers' Conferences at Easter. The NASUWT teachers' union hit the headlines. Chris Keates, General Secretary said:
"Teachers welcome children with special needs into mainstream schools providing that the school can meet their needs and the motivation for the placement is in the best interests of the child, rather than a drive by local authorities to save money on specialist provision and support.
"However, a lack of a clear, shared, national definition of what inclusion means and the variation of provision across the country means pupils, parents and indeed teachers face a postcode lottery of support and provision.
"This situation must be addressed to deliver a core national entitlement for pupils and for schools and to ensure that children and young people are placed in appropriate educational settings that meet their needs and aspirations."
Paul Desgranges, a teacher from Sheffield, told the union's annual conference in Bournemouth: "Inclusion strategies that place children and young people in mainstream schools, regardless of their needs, adversely affect the working practices of teachers and school leaders and fail to address the needs of the pupils themselves."
At least such sentiments accept the inclusion of a large proportion of disabled children, which is an improvement on what used to come from NASUWT Conferences. Should children adapt to fit in the school and then, if they do not fit, should they end up in special school or in a Pupil Referral Unit (PRU)? Or should the school adjust its policies and practices to accommodate the disabled child and their needs? The first of these ideas is integration while the second is inclusive education.
Inevitably this policy was glossed by the media. For example, the Guardian said on 15th April - "But SEN teachers will tell the teaching union NASUWT today that Blunkett's policy is failing some children with disabilities and should be reversed. Children with SEN may learn very little and suffer from loneliness in mainstream schools, the teachers will argue."
Clearly there should be training for all staff on inclusion.
This is still not a mandatory part of the 1 year PGCE, but it is part of the
3 year B Ed. However, there still remains great confusion around these issues,
not least from the Government itself. At a recent meeting of the UNCCC (United
Nations Convention Campaign Coalition) with Sarah McCarthy-Fry (Minister for
SEN/Disability), she asked was 'there a difference between integration and
inclusion?' The reservations around Article 24 of the UN Convention on the
Rights of People with Disabilities show the same confusion from the Government.
The development of inclusion is both a process and a commitment to improve
education in the future. Teachers need to be engaged in this process as part
of their professional development.
Generally too many schools are still not getting it right for disabled children as shown by the Lamb Enquiry. So if it is the right national definition of inclusion, yes, but there will need to be a shared understanding and national training programme.
From September OFSTED will make equalities, including the inclusion of disabled children, a limiting grade in their inspection regime. This will mean a school that does well for the majority of non-disabled children, but not for it's disabled children, cannot do better than the inspection grade for those disabled children. This is likely to send a wake up call to many head teachers and governors and so hopefully they will take disability equality much more seriously.
The NUT passed a motion unanimously to boycott SATs next year. They have now been joined by the NAHT - Head teachers organisation. This move, which needs to be fully supported by parents, will help develop inclusion more than any other single measure. As long as SATs set the primary agenda of teaching to test, a narrowed curriculum and competition will remain the norm. Collaboration and a joy of learning are essential for greater inclusion which will flourish without the iniquitous tests.
The NUT also turned its attention to attempts to privatise PRU's and their development into long stay mini-schools, rather than reintegrating into mainstream those pupils with emotional and behavioural difficulties who have benefitted from experienced staff, low ratios in a different environment. These establishments are the tip of the iceberg of a much larger number of unofficial and unlawful exclusions which are discriminatory, about which the DCSF has recently reissued advice to schools. Schools need to develop effective positive and differentiated behaviour policies.
The motion which was adopted argues for short stay and reintegration into mainstream and against the privatisation proposed in the Learning Skills and Apprenticeship Bill and for a better relationship with secondary schools so that excluded pupils can be reintegrated. The cost of educating children excluded from school are 9.5 times the cost of supporting them in mainstream schools, haemorrhaging funds on a massive scale from those schools. 57% of children are denied access to a new school for longer than a term and 25% for more than two terms. Educational outcomes of those in PRUs are much lower than those who are reintegrated.
Ministers and the opposition both want to give more powers to schools to exclude rather than encouraging schools to develop effective pro-active approaches to challenging behaviour. Research has shown over and over that difficult behaviour is linked to 'boring' lessons and lack of involvement of pupils in developing the policies.
Teachers and schools need to recognise that inclusion is a
human right and here to stay. They need to prioritise and campaign for the
time and funding for training for inclusive education. There have been pupils
with every type and degree of impairment successfully included in mainstream
school. Success is about attitudes and the school environment and leadership,
not the type of pupil.
'Language is bridges so that you can get from one place to another'.
This is a line from Arnold Wesker's play, Roots. Beattie, the central character in the play is unhappy with her current existence and is struggling to find the right words to name her life, so that she can understand what has happened to her and change her life for the better. I often use this quote when I am trying to persuade people why language matters so much in the inclusion debate and how the words we choose reflect a great deal of thought and discussion - a shared way of looking at the world.
Take a word like 'impairment', for example. It's a bit of an ugly old thing and I once vowed never to use it in my own writing. I changed my mind when I began to really understand the ideas behind the Social Model of Disability. The word impairment (and its bed-fellow, the word 'condition') has a specific meaning in our debate. It describes a disabled person's physical, sensory, mental or health condition. Unless you are a doctor or someone closely involved in the care of a disabled person, their impairment isn't something most people need to know much about. What we do need to know if we are working towards inclusion are the barriers a disabled person faces and we need to know this so that we can set about removing them. When I read or hear words like impairment, rather than the muddier, all purpose disability, inclusion rather than integration, non disabled rather than able-bodied, it's a good feeling. It's not that I don't understand what people, organisations or authorities mean if they use words like handicapped or person with a disability, rather than disabled and disabled people, it's because the particular choice of language indicates that the writer or speaker has done some hard thinking and careful listening and is likely to be on the same journey as me.
Unless of course, others are stealing and mis-using our language (see 'Include Me Out' in the Spring 2009 edition of Inclusion Now) or when a whole new term is invented which sounds like it might be a good thing, but proves to be the opposite.
Co-Location - coming to a school near you?
It's only recently that I heard the term 'Co-Location' but it's possible everyone reading this has heard it before and I'm the last to know. It's certainly the buzz word of the not so leafy London Borough of Islington where I live and it will probably be coming to a school near you some time soon.
Co-Location. Sounds cosy don't you think? Like it would be something very nice and warm for all the children being educated in Islington, and where all children would be educated in a cheek by cheek, co-operative, co-assisting, co-existing kind of a way. But what does it actually mean? Well, co-location means that 'special schools', are being 'co-located' with mainstream schools: two separate schools on the same site. Note the preposition here: 'with' not 'in'. A recent briefing from Islington Council tells us that they are leading the way nationally with its co-location policy for SEN schools and soon all of the special schools in the borough will be co-located with mainstream schools.
Does this still sound like a good thing, or is it beginning to ring a few well rung alarm bells? There is a lot of money going into this new 'policy'. In the school nearest me, two brand new, purpose built schools are currently being built as part of Islington's £6million Building Schools for the Future (BSF) programme. Two completely separate buildings are now going up on the same piece of land: the secondary department of Samuel Rhodes, an SEN school for pupils with 'moderate learning difficulties' is being built cheek by jowl as the new building for Highbury Grove, a mainstream comprehensive. Same site perhaps, but absolutely not the same school. The two schools will be housed in completely separate buildings, albeit a few steps or wheelchair rolls away from each other. Both will keep their own names and have their own uniforms. They will have different head-teachers, staff and governing bodies, a different ethos and vision statement, separate timetables, activity rooms, play and social areas. What will they share in this new 'co-location'? Apparently they will share the dining and kitchen facilities, the indoor pool and changing facilities and access to some of the outside sports facilities (and there will be cost savings in sharing the ICT server and computer technicians). But since the two schools will have separate timetables, it seems unlikely that they will be using any of these facilities at the same time. Sounds more like separation and segregation to me - a co-location cop-out.
The primary department of Samuel Rhodes with forty pupils was recently 'co-located', this time on the third floor of Montem Primary School, also a separate school with separate staff and governing body, but this time in the same building with hopefully more sharing of facilities. In a recent Islington press release, Jackie Blount, Headteacher of Samuel Rhodes praised the fantastic new facilities where 'pupils and parents can feel part of an inclusive community.'
But however much the term Co-Location might sound like a positive development, I don't understand how close physical proximity to another school but with no plans for shared teaching or learning, represents any kind of progress. In fact, it seems like the opposite to me, because whilst local authorities are patting themselves on the back for this new initiative (financed for the most part by private industry), it is abdicating responsibility for making any improvement in the journey towards inclusion. Teachers in mainstream schools are still being encouraged to think that the teaching and learning of 'special school' pupils requires a completely different set of skills and knowledge to 'normal' children in the mainstream schools and vice versa, children in SEN school are no more likely to be taught a full curriculum with trained teachers than they ever were, and children will feel equally awkward and embarrassed about making friends with those on the opposite side of the co-located playground. They are still entirely different schools, only much closer together.
I hate to end on a depressing note but it does seem to me
that co-located buildings, however much they are dressed up in state of the
art glass and steel with an attractive colour palette of taupe, navy and chartreuse,
are setting back our journey towards inclusion for all our children for the
next thirty five years.
Lois Keith, June 2009
On Sunday the 19th of April, Kelly and I organised another East Midlands Alliance group meeting. We are both young disabled people and we are really keen for young people to lead the group. The meeting was held in Leicestershire and although we were small in number the discussions were as lively as always!
Kelly and I hosted the meeting. Kelly took charge of the 'housekeeping' which included a very funny fire exit demonstration.
We were really keen to get everyone talking so we started by thinking about what we think inclusion is and how our ideas about inclusion fit in Schools, or in Play opportunities and around Transport.
We tried to keep personal matters out of the meeting as much as possible, but sometimes it is difficult. We had a short presentation about the Play work Inclusion Project (PIP) from Emma Kirk, which was very useful and we think this will really help us to think about what action we want to do as a group.
At the end of the meeting, we all talked about what we want to do next, and how we can continue the group. Everyone who came said they wanted to continue to come to the Midlands Alliance group because they enjoyed meeting together and sharing stories about inclusion. We all decided that at the next meeting, everyone who comes will prepare a small presentation on something that they think is important about inclusion. Everyone will also have a chance to share any information with the group. We are also thinking about whether smaller groups from each of the three counties (Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Leicestershire) could meet more regularly - maybe every month and then we could all get together every three months so we can catch up with each other and help each other to think about what actions we want to take as a group.
We decided that we would talk about how we would fund this at the next meeting. Although a large proportion of people wanted to progress the group, some wanted a coffee morning instead because they wanted it just to vent their anger and not as a meeting. There was a lot of debate at this meeting!
A really big thanks to everyone who came to the meeting and
look forward to seeing you at the end of June.
As parents, we are told that school trips are a child's most
memorable experience of their school life. That it is a rite of passage to
their ever changing role in the world, moving away from their full time dependency
on adults, learning to trust others and develop skills with their peers to
take on life's challenges. Most importantly, they get to hang out with their
friends and have fun!! How wonderful that most parents have the help of a
school to make this happen.
For us there was an apprehensive start from the school for Ruby's participation on the yearly trip to the Isle of Wight. However the commitment, planning and creative thinking of everyone involved resulted in a very successful, enjoyable and enriching event.
It seems that if we approach the challenges of inclusion from one of preventing harm on any level to our young people, be it through exclusion, isolation, humiliation, lack of expectation or even the perceived risks that the current Health and Safety guidelines insist we abide by, maybe it is possible to create an approach to problem solving without conflict. To shift our attention from the 'risk' a disabled child poses to the school or activity to the 'risk' to the child if excluded can create a new perspective for everyone to focus on.
Thankfully, that all important shift was made at Down's Junior School. We now have a much more 'ordinary' photo album and memory book in our house to share - ordinary memories, to be cherished and to grow from.
Ruby's Highlights of the trip:
"Playing with my friends forever" "I wanted the quad bikes to go faster"
Jenny and Ruby Dine
Paula Kluth, author of 'You're Going to Love this Kid'* was invited to deliver a day's training for Lewisham Early Years Services on how to include children with autism in mainstream schools. 'Inclusive Solutions' organised the event and invited me along. This is some of what I learned.
Experiencing life as someone who is autistic is the same as experiencing life for someone without autism, but more intensely.
All of us behave in certain ways when we are over-stimulated or stressed, including running away or disappearing inside ourselves. We need to do these things to protect ourselves and to prevent 'melt-down'. To be useful to someone who is autistic we must not try to stop these behaviours but instead learn to identify why they became necessary and take steps to prevent these situations arising.
We need to create safe, calm places in all our schools for anyone who needs them. People of all ages need to be allowed to remove themselves from stressful situations before they cannot cope with it.
Like for all of us the 'deficit', or 'medical model' does not work. To help an autistic person to learn we need to identify their gifts, strengths and interests - even if they seem 'obsessive' - and use them to motivate development.
We must never assume that 'What we see is what there is'. This is never the case especially with people who display a lot of self-defence mechanisms which are sometimes mistaken for evidence of learning difficulties. Instead we need to assume capacity and wholeness. To help us we need to listen to adults who are autistic reflecting on their experiences of life (there is masses of brilliant stuff on YouTube - type in Donna Williams for a starter).
There are many ways to cut down on the sensory overload created by busy classrooms and schools, including changing strobe lighting to soft or natural light, judicious seating away from sources of noise, flickering screens, kitchen smells etc and offering the use of ear defenders, tinted glasses and other useful resources.
Although most people who are autistic find change to routines difficult, they can be helped to cope by repeating warnings every day that schedules may change - like a mantra.
Some people who are autistic who keep getting 'stuck' in patterns of behaviour which prevent them reaching a desired goal e.g... falling to the floor before reaching the end of the dinner queue, can sometimes break out of them by watching carefully edited videos of themselves completing the desired sequence of activity and then copying or 'echoing' what they see (Video Modelling).
Perhaps most importantly I learned that autistic people, far from having fewer emotions, feel love, closeness, hope, fear, compassion and everything else that we all feel and are also not always very good at showing - but of course I already knew that!
Thank you Paula for a brilliant presentation. I just wish
the whole world had been there to hear you. What a lot of heartache can be
prevented by good information.
Graphics by Derek Wilson, Inclusive Solutions
*Jessica Kingsley, ISBN 1843101750
Learners with autism often struggle to stay seated, focused, and engaged in required work or tasks. With proper supports and adaptations, however, students may be able to increase their time on-task and remain comfortable even during longer periods of whole-class instruction.
Some students can be comforted if they have an object to manipulate during lessons. One student I know likes to pick apart the threads on patches of denim. Another folds and unfolds a drinking straw during long lecture periods. A third student creases paper over and over again, creating interesting origami-type sculptures. Students having such a need might be offered squishy "stress" balls, straws, stir sticks, strings of beads, rubber bands or even key chains that have small toys attached to them. When possible, students might be given objects that are related to course content. For example, a student in a social studies class, liked to pinch a stress ball during class. His teacher found a globe-themed stress ball at a teaching conference and gave it to the young man. The two then began playing an informal and humorous game of "Which country are you squishing?" at the end of class each day.
Allow Drawing or Doodling
Allowing students to draw can be another effective "stay-put" strategy. Unfortunately, doodling is often seen as off-task behaviour by teachers. Many learners with and without identified needs, however, are better able to concentrate on a lecture or activity when they are given the opportunity to draw on a notepad, write on their folders, sketch in a notebook, or even (depending on the student's age) colour a worksheet.
Walk it Off
Some students work best when they can pause between tasks and take a break (walk around, stretch, or simply stop working). Some learners will need walking breaks - lasting anywhere from a few seconds to twenty minutes. Some students will need to walk up and down a hallway once or twice, others will be fine if allowed to wander around in the classroom. Teachers concerned about the student missing content can give the learner a content-connected task to accomplish during his or her walking break. For instance, a teacher in a middle school language arts class regularly asked her student to do a library search for the class during one of her walking breaks.
Another teacher decided to offer "ambulatory opportunities" to all learners. He regularly gave students a prompt to discuss (e.g., What do you know about the stock market?; What is a statistic?) and then directed them to "talk and walk" with a partner. After ten minutes of movement, he brought the students back together and asked them to discuss their conversations.
Offer Seating Choices
Having a few different seating options in the classroom can potentially boost the educational experiences of all learners. Seating options may include couches, footstools, padded seat covers, rocking chairs, pillows, floor mats, and swivel stools. Appropriate seating may not be the first thing a teacher considers when planning for a student with autism, but for some, the right type of classroom furniture is pivotal to their success and comfort. One student could not tolerate sitting on the hard desk chairs provided in all of his classrooms so the teachers let him bring a cushion to class. Another student often preferred sitting on the floor (where he would prop himself up with two large pillows) so at any point during the day, the young man was allowed to sit in his "nest" (as he called the space).
Ask the Student For Help
One student was asked how the teaching team might help him with his "jumpiness" during the last twenty minutes of the day. The child swore that sucking on jaw breaker candies would help him stay in his seat and feel more relaxed. The team laughed and was sceptical, assuming that the suggestion was a ploy to get the teachers to supply a daily treat, but the "jaw breaker pedagogy" (as it came to be called) worked beautifully. From the first day it was instituted, the young man was able to keep his body calm during the time period in question.
Teachers can also go to families for help. Parents can share tips they have found most useful or observe the situation and provide possible solutions based on their experiences in the home and community.
© 2006 Paula Kluth www.paulakluth.com
After 17 years Disability Equality in Education (DEE) has shut due to financial difficulties, but the work of DEE will continue in many ways:
Through the 550 disabled people trained to deliver training on disability equality and inclusive education
Through the 100,000 teachers and educationalists who underwent training courses run by DEE in the last 12 years
Through the thinking on developing inclusive education and disability equality contained in many films and publications
Through a new website which contains all DEE's publications for free download and use around the world: www.worldofinclusion.com
Through Richard Rieser Consulting and Training
Through resources that DEE produced for Government such as 'Implementing the Disability Discrimination Act in Schools and Early Years' - a 5 and a half hour DVD of examples of inclusive practice in 41 schools available from The Stationary Office
Through the legislation on disability equality and inclusion
that DEE helped to get in place
Through the many families helped to get their rights in education
Through the Alliance for Inclusive Education
Around the world in Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, Europe, India, Korea, Morocco, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Africa, United Arab Emirates, United Nations, USA, Uganda and Wales where DEE provided training on Disability Equality and Inclusive Education.
Disability Equality in Education was set up in 1992 to publish
the reprint of 'Disability Equality in the Classroom: A Human Rights Issue'.
This pioneering book by Richard Rieser and Micheline Mason published by the
Inner London Education Authority in March 1990 (3 weeks before Mrs Thatcher
abolished the ILEA) was sent to every local authority in the UK and every
Inner London School. It was the first attempt to bring the thinking of the
Disabled Peoples Movement and the Inclusion Movement together in a handbook
for schools. ILEA gave the copyright to Richard and Micheline together with
some 2000 copies which were sold in the next two years. The book led to many
requests for training. Comic Relief funded two 'Training the Trainers' workshops
in Leicester and provided an interest free loan to republish the book. In
1994 they also produced 'Altogether Better' by Micheline and Richard which
eventually sold 10,000 copies and was used to train hundreds of thousands
of students in inclusive education.
DEE was set up to be a non campaigning organisation to educate educationalists about inclusive education and publish and produce resources. DEE became an essential part of the 'Integration Alliance' as it was known then and later a key contributor to Inclusion Now. It took over two years to get charitable status - a move initiated in 1994 after it became clear nobody would fund DEE as a non-charity. Even once charitable status was achieved it was very difficult to get funding. The Barrow Cadbury Trust, Platinum Trust and later Comic Relief became the mainstays of DEE. By 1998 DEE had an office (no longer Richard's basement), a part time Director, an Administrator and a part time Training Coordinator. Work began in earnest in developing the capacity of disabled equality trainers to train educationalists in disability equality and inclusive education.
The first colour Overhead Transparency pack was a new and exciting resource and trainers came together at Bermondsey YHA to develop their approach collectively. This core group grew into the steering group. The Department for Education in 1999/2000 funded more 'Training the Trainers' and an independent evaluation of DEE's training in schools which demonstrated it changed attitudes and practice and that 94% of participants rated it as good or excellent. In 2002 DEE received a major 3 year grant from the National Lottery and set about developing a national network of trainers. In the next three years more staff were taken on and a larger office and over 500 disabled people underwent the four day course, with Richard now as full time Director. DEE were also commissioned to produce resources for the Government and various statutory agencies and DEE became the recognised lead disability equality training organisation in the UK.
Collaborating in 1993/94 on the production of 'All Equal All Different', a pack for Early Years/ KS1 as part of European Year of Disabled People was a great resource, but caused the beginning of DEEs troubles as the Coordinator of the European Year embezzled £30,000 due to DEE. This was never recovered. Next the Lottery failed to renew grant saying Government should be funding DEE. But apart from the 'Free Up Your Life' Project for empowering young disabled people in mainstream and the 'Reasonable Adjustment Project' Government would not fund. This inevitably led to office moves and redundancies. DEE continued for a further three years largely unfunded (apart from Platinum and a small grant from City Parochial) surviving on its training and resource income. The lack of core funding inevitably took its human toll on the health of the Director Richard Rieser and the Trustees took the decision to close by March 2009.
Was it worth it? A resounding yes. The inclusive education
environment is now a different place in no small measure due to the pioneering
work of DEE. Richard is now hoping to work at a more leisurely pace as a freelance
consultant/trainer. The resources are all on the www.worldofinclusion.com
website for use in taking forward the worldwide struggle for disability rights
and inclusion. Thanks to all the Trustees and Trainers that made DEE such
a unique experience and organisation: a mouse of an organisation that performed
as a lion.
Since the formation of the Alliance for Inclusive Education, disabled people have proclaimed that the struggle for inclusion must be led by disabled people themselves with parents and professionals taking the role of ally. I have come to think that this issue is difficult to explain, has never been debated, and is certainly not accepted by many. What do we mean by leadership? Which disabled people are we talking about, and what is an ally? What follows is my thinking and as such is incomplete and open to discussion and development. I hope it will be a start on the journey to clarity on this issue.
The question about what is the nature of leadership in this context presupposes that we are in agreement that the issue we are dealing with is one of oppression and not simply one of bad practice or misunderstanding. The children who are excluded from schools are almost exclusively from poor, working class, ethnic minority or refugee/asylum seeker backgrounds and struggling, or they are disabled and struggling. They are also young people, an oppressed group itself with very few rights of their own. It is important to recognise that exclusion is a function of oppression especially when that function is masked by the rhetoric of 'choice'.
It also presupposes an agreement that we all have the fundamental right to self-determination. For example, we try and allow our children to define their own needs -"Are you hungry?" and to have choice about how to fill those needs - "Do you want cheese on toast or beans on toast?" because we have an instinctive understanding that we all need to develop our own thinking about all matters which concern us in order to develop our humanity. We understand that inclusion on an individual level is about helping a person to make their unique contribution to the world. The same applies to groups of people who have been victims of oppression. This experience is universal in that, whether the excuse is class, race, gender, age or disability, we have all had our own thinking ignored or suppressed, and our power to define our own needs, make meaningful choices or contribute to the world severely limited. At the same time, a small minority of people, mostly white, mostly male, are groomed to run things, and to run them for their own (their group's) benefit, however well they try to cover that up.
This imbalance of power is everywhere and affects all our relationships, especially within the inclusion movement which is focussed on those who are relegated to the bottom of the heap of human worth. It is the easiest thing for those with comparative power to say to themselves "I am a good person. I want to help people. I want to end injustice. I want to use my education, skills, resources, confidence to make the world a better place", and then to proceed to organise life for the oppressed by redefining their needs, putting them in places which they believe are better for them (i.e. mainstream schools) and only asking their opinion when they are pretty sure their opinion coincides with theirs, wearily polishing their halos at the end of the day.
There are at least two things wrong with this approach. Firstly,
they might be wrong because they have not listened enough to the details of
the problem as it is actually experienced by the 'excluded'. Secondly, and
more importantly, this approach turns the struggle into an intellectual battle
between two factions of the 'powerful' without doing anything to empower the
groups of people who have been defined as victims. I do not think this can
ever work because, in straight 'fight' terms, the other faction is the State,
backed by the whole apparatus of global capitalism, and they hold all the
Now it may sound odd to say that it is only the 'victims' who can actually win this fight, but I believe it is true. When the oppressed start to fight back on their own behalf, be they Rosa Parks, Emmeline Pankhurst or Tara Flood, something different happens. Change happens at a much deeper level. The oppressed start to believe in themselves, unite around common goals, and force change by non-compliance. This takes a lot of courage. The perception of them in the mind of the oppressors changes, stereotypes are dissolved, limits are seen as false, respect grows and eventually friendship and comradeship become possible. This brings about a cultural change which makes retreat into the old ways impossible.
What does the leadership of disabled people mean in this context? It certainly doesn't mean accepting the view of any person with a limp and a loud voice. I think it means helping us to fight back. It means accepting the policies and goals of the disability movement. These have been hammered out over many years through debate in the most democratic forums we have yet managed to create (National Assemblies, self run organisations etc). Not every disabled person agrees with everything. Many have not yet had access to the thinking, but there is a working majority on many issues. Currently the international disabled people's community supports the ending of all segregated education and its replacement with well supported inclusive education in which every child has the right to have his/individual needs met. This is a mandate.
When the disability movement throws up strong disabled people who can help organise on the ground to turn these policies into living realities, then they need to be recognised and supported as leaders. I don't just mean patting them on the back now and again. I mean throwing yourself behind them. Don't compete with them. Give them support, backing, information, resources, platforms, encouragement, even love, and then it is much more likely that they will succeed than if you don't. Many wonderful disabled leaders have succumbed to discouragement and exhaustion because this support was not forthcoming.
Disabled people can be leaders of everyone, including our allies. We can, and are, helping other excluded people to come together and organise, even very young people. I think it is the stereotype of disabled people that we can only think about ourselves and our issues that confuses many potential allies into believing that they must stay in charge. And of course our history of exclusion and poor education can feed this stereotype. However, many of us understand fully the deep implications of inclusion for all people, even those marooned in positions of privileged isolation, and we can, and must, inspire and guide the whole movement.
I have always remembered the time I first time I heard owning-class adults talk (and cry about) their experiences of boarding school. I suddenly saw how, as children, we had much in common, and how we had been hurt in similar ways, although the purpose of the exclusion was completely different. I think too of my Dad, growing up able-bodied but very poor. He caught tuberculosis as a child as was sent to an open air school to recover (or at least to cut down on the risk of infecting others). He left school at thirteen unable to read and write. This experience too affected the whole of his life.
We are all damaged by the kind of society that uses exclusion
as a social tool. In this sense there are no 'allies', only victims. Taking
the lead from disabled people means coming alongside us, being open and honest
and brave about your own stories in the same way we choose to, in order to
shed light on the real cost to our humanity of our current policies and practices.
I see no conflict in this. In fact I think it is the only way we can work
together in a true partnership.
The 8th June 2009 will go down forever in history as a milestone in the struggle for disabled people's equality. This is because it is the day the UK Government stood by its commitment to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The UK Inclusion Movement and the 11 million disabled people in the UK should be celebrating ..
However that commitment comes with conditions. The UK Government has placed conditions on disabled people's right to come to the UK, the right to have our legal capacity recognised, our right to join the armed forces and more importantly for the Inclusion Movement, disabled learners' right to be educated alongside our non-disabled peers.
The Convention is the first human rights treaty of the 21st century and, of course, it represents a major step in helping to ensure that a broad range of disabled people's human rights are protected. We are deeply disappointed, therefore, that the Government has failed disabled learners so spectacularly by denying our right to be included.
It is clear that despite months of lobbying the Government has stuck to its original position of placing an interpretative declaration on the definition of 'general education system' in Article 24, to include special schools. Government has also placed a reservation on Article 24, to be able to continue to place disabled children away from home. This clearly highlights the Government's refusal to take into account the aspirational nature of the Convention. The Government has also refused to consider suggested changes to the Article 24 text that would include a future date for implementing inclusive education.
Ratification of the Convention was marked by a Seminar organised by the Equality and Human Rights Commission with the UK Disabled Peoples Council, Disability Awareness in Action and Scope. The event was hosted by Andrew Dismore MP, Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and speakers included Jonathan Shaw MP - Minister for Disabled People, Mark Harper MP - Shadow Minister for Disabled People, John Barrett MP - Liberal Democrat Disability Spokesperson and Lord Hannay of Chiswick - Chair, United Nations Association of the UK.
Baroness Jane Campbell, Equality & Human Rights Commissioner
and great supporter of the Inclusion Movement said:
"Ratification of the disability Convention is an important and historic milestone, but we cannot allow the Convention to now sit on a shelf gathering dust. The Convention will only have meaning to disabled people in what Eleanor Roosevelt famously referred to as 'those small places, close to home'.
"That is why we want to see the Convention guiding future legislative and policy development in all the UK jurisdictions, and we want to see the withdrawal of the reservations that the UK has declared on ratification."
Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Chief Commissioner Monica McWilliams said that "The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission urges government to sign up to the Convention in full as we can see no reason for the UK to do less than other countries to protect the rights of disabled people."
The Alliance is now committed to leading the campaign for
the implementation of the Convention and we will focus particularly on lobbying
for the removal of the Article 24 reservation and interpretive declaration.
Only then can inclusive education become a reality for ALL learners.