Inclusion Now Articles Issue 28
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In September 2010 a delegation of disabled people, parents and education professionals from the UK joined others from a number of countries in Europe on a visit to Iceland to learn about and share good inclusive practice. We saw many good examples but one school in particular turned out to be an inspiration to all. Here two of the UK group reflect on their experience.
Cast your mind back to one of those exercises you have taken part in at a Disability Equality or Person Centred Thinking training session…
Imagine the excited group of people sprawled on the floor, surrounded by felt tip pens, glue, glitter, cardboard shapes etc…
Remember being told to design your perfect school, think about everything you put in - and the additional bit the other groups put into their vision posters…
Now, be honest, did you really believe it was going to happen? Maybe not! But in a small school, Norðlingaskóli, in Iceland, we had a real glimpse of the possibilities, when we visited back in September of last year.
I wasn't the only person in the room who misheard the introduction of Ágúst the 'Vice' Headmaster as Ágúst the 'Wise' Headmaster. Here was a teacher who dreamed a dream and had the chance to make it come true.
In 2005 he started working as a support assistant in a mainstream school. He immediately realised that he did not have the education or skills to teach those who faced additional barriers to learning. Ágúst had left school at the earliest opportunity, many years ago, having had a dreadful time. He was shocked by the expectation that he could teach disabled children, but also motivated by a strong desire to make school a positive experience for children, so went to college and trained as a teacher.
Around that time, Reykjavik had a growing population in a new community on the edges of town. The council knew a new school would have to be established and took the decision to make it a brilliantly inclusive school. To do this, they appointed a visionary leadership team to make it real, and Ágúst joined the team at the beginning.
When we drove up to the school, the first thing we noticed was a shabby collection of portacabins. Any negative impression we started with was quickly swept away in gasps of amazement as we noticed children climbing trees, running, cycling laughing - barely supervised and having fun. It was a joyous sight, one we hadn't seen in the UK for many years where officials are obsessed with risk and the compensation culture has squeezed childhood into a fairly sterile box for most (this school has an ethos of giving children 'responsible freedom').
Ágúst greeted us with gentle humour and explained that the half built school had ground to a halt when the economy crashed a few years ago, but work had restarted and they are optimistic that it will be completed in the next school year. Despite the shabby surroundings and sounds of drills and hammers, we sat in amazement as he explained the school philosophy to us. You could have heard a pin drop as we discovered many gems:
School is for the students, not the staff
When children start school, whether they are 6 years old or transfer in later, they learn how the school community works and settle in before anyone starts to teach them
Friendship groups are organised by the teachers and the children visit each other out of school each week
School puts a lot of effort into building a family atmosphere and valuing the emotional wellbeing of everyone
Every student from 6 - 16 has a weekly meeting with their teacher where they make a learning contract:
What are you going to do this week?
How am I going to help?
What resources do you need?
What are your social goals for the week?
They also review the last week:
What did you learn?
How did it go?
How can I help you?
Is there anything I can do to help you?
Pupils also study a topic of their own special interest for an extended period and share their learning with the whole grade when their project is complete
Parents are viewed as the experts in their children - schools have expertise in education
School tries to give parents what they want
End of term reports are a collaboration between children, parents and teachers
Parents are invited into 'parents days' where they are taught by the pupils and there is 95% attendance
The day is split into 4 sections:
Arts and crafts
Children learn in groups and move fluidly between the 4 segments of the day
Some work is done in small groups, some in large, and the flexible sizes gives the time and space for some individual attention
The school is light on rules - children can wear hats, chew gum, and when they are older listen to music on their Ipods if it helps them to learn
They don't have 'bad behaviour', they learn from mistakes
They don't believe in punishment or rewards, just cooperation and understanding
They have regular fun days like 'hat' or 'pyjama' day - everyone joins in from the management team to the tiny tots - official visitors have been greeted by a head in silk pyjamas!
There were no shrinking violets in our crowd, but when it was time for questions there was an unusual silence - many of us were quietly weeping with joy for Nordlingaskoli and sadness for the very different experiences our own children have.
Education is arranged differently in Iceland - children attend community schools from 6 to 16 and the schools are small, the largest only 500 pupils. This human scale of schooling really helps to build an inclusive community and nurtures children through the trials of puberty in a familiar environment. They also have a more flexible national curriculum.
Sadly, opportunities after school are not yet so good for children with learning disabilities - but as the philosophy of Norðlingaskóli is rolled out across the nation it can't take long for Icelandic society to move to supporting people to full inclusion in adult life.
Meanwhile the 'Wise' Headmaster is challenging ministers to explain why the word 'joy' is absent from policy about children. Let's hope we have the opportunity to invite him over here soon to spread his gentle wisdom over our children and policymakers alike.
So, now that you know it is possible to make the vision real, what are you going to do to bring real inclusive education to a school near you?
"I tell my staff - If you think you have found the truth then it's time to quit and go home"
Ágúst Ólason, Vice Headmaster, Norðlingaskóli
Of the many things that Ágúst said on our visit to this rural Icelandic School that quote particularly stuck in my mind. Ágúst meant that if staff felt they had reached the end of their journey towards inclusion - 'found the truth' - for him that would imply that they thought they couldn't do anything more for a child. And clearly for Ágúst that is a conclusion that should never be reached - the work is never done. How remarkable and inspiring it was to find such radical beliefs shared by a manager of a mainstream school.
This was not the only example - here are some more of the core beliefs of the Norðlingaskóli team from their 2010-2011 school prospectus:
Each individual should be given the learning conditions necessary for him or her to grow and develop on his or her own premises, graduating as an independent, strong and, most importantly - happy individual
Age groups work together, i.e. that mixed age grouping is used in teaching as it improves students' social skills and enables them to pursue their education at their own pace
That students feel good and that each student's work and learning corresponds to his or her needs, capabilities and strengths. We ground ourselves on individualised instruction and many types of collaborative learning. Arts and crafts play a vital role
That the school is for all children in the school district, fully inclusive, that no child is expendable and everyone is welcome
That school staff is dedicated to teamwork, so that the diversity within the staff benefits the students
Of course simply stating these core beliefs does not make it so and what was just as impressive was the range of systems and strategies at Norðlingaskóli designed to make these beliefs more likely to mean something in practice. Two examples:
35% of curriculum time is given over to mixed age practical workshops - doing things with your hands - learning is not just about books and lectures
When the school was founded the authorities advertised for a management team, not simply a solo headteacher, realising that a team together stood a much greater chance of changing traditions and developing an inclusive vision
So now we can be sure that it is possible to create a school that tries to work for everyone and that when you do many other teachers will want to work there and be part of it - Ágúst mentioned in passing that the school had recently had 107 applications for 7 vacancies in the expanding team. Some will say this is just one school - but you only need to see it once - and we saw it on the 24th September 2010.
There will be an opportunity later this year to hear first hand about this inspiring work. Ágúst Ólason, the Vice Headmaster at Norðlingaskóli, will be among the presenters at the 2nd Scottish Inclusion Institute. This will be held from 20th - 22nd September 2011 at the Seamill Hydro, North Ayrshire.
More details can be found at: http://www.inspiringinclusion.com/events.aspx
The Schools White Paper 'The Importance of Teaching' lays out the Coalition Government's strategy towards education for 3 - 19 year olds in England. Richard Rieser gives his view on what this could mean for the struggle for inclusion.
Inclusive schools are democratic schools where the whole community of teachers, parents, pupils, governors and other staff are involved in planning and delivering education for all; where respect for all is encouraged; where the diversity of learning styles and levels is accommodated and where the necessary support is provided. Against this concept, how will the White Paper help?
Key proposals include:
Mr Gove, assisted by three head teachers, will outline the core knowledge children should expect to acquire. The emphasis will be on knowledge rather than understanding in traditional subjects - Maths, English, a modern or classical language including Latin, science, and history or geography. Creativity is to be pushed to the margins.
The White Paper proposes getting rid of the modular nature of GCSEs. They will now have to be taken as single exams. Punctuation and spelling will be graded in all subjects.
Vocational courses will be down-graded with an emphasis only on the GCSE route to accreditation.
Young people with challenging behaviour will be excluded to off-site provision, but they will remain on the role of the school and the school will pay for the provision. Independent appeals will not be able to over-turn the heads decision.
Voluntary organisations, businesses and universities will be encouraged to run schools as academies. If any school is failing or does not improve they will be forced to become academies.
Teachers will be trained more in school, not university, and new Teaching Schools - like Teaching Hospitals - will be set up and run by super-heads.
The pupil premium will give extra resources to schools for children on free school meals (but against this, Local Authority Support Teams across the country are being severely cut and the Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant is being cut at Easter).
Local Authorities will continue to be responsible for Statements and SEN provision (though how this will work when special schools have academy status is not said).
The White Paper makes a priority of challenging sexist, homophobic and disabilist bullying and OFSTED will give this special attention.
The evidence from educational research, if one takes all learners, is that non-selective comprehensive schools, taking children of all backgrounds and teaching them altogether in mixed ability classes leads to the best educational and social outcomes for all. However, since the ideological swing starting in the mid 1970's against a truly egalitarian system, politicians of all parties have spent a great deal of effort tinkering with the state education system.
The Coalition Government leaders put forward two main reasons for their proposals. While recognising massive improvements in our schools over the last 20 years they point to our weakening position in international league tables of (narrowly measured) education outcomes with the consequent impact on our economic competitiveness.
They also point to the injustice of the continuing unequal educational outcomes for children from poorer homes. Much is made for example of the fact that a much smaller proportion of children on free school meals get to Oxbridge each year than pupils from just one major public school. However, similar conclusions can be drawn for all pupils from state schools compared to those from fee paying private schools. What this actually shows is the deeply entrenched class basis of the English education system. Despite the efforts of various Governments the effect of the social position of our parents on the chance of getting a good degree at a top university remains the same as 100 years ago.
So will the Coalition manage to change the class nature of the English Education system, or make it more inclusive? This seems most unlikely when success is measured in such a narrow way and inclusive methods and approaches are not being encouraged. The real reason for this move to the market, I would suggest, is to open up school budgets for profiteering. With a falling rate of profit many businesses are keen to get their hands on school budgets and Mr Cameron, Osborne and Clegg's friends in business are waiting to move in and laugh all the way to the bank.
Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills, has criticised the wrong use of the SEN (Special Educational Needs) label on 25% of the 1.7 million pupils with a current SEN diagnosis in England. This means that some 50,000 pupils may have been misdiagnosed.
The comments followed their study* which examined a wide range of educational provision, from nursery to statutory provision, education for 16-19 year olds, as well as the role of social and health services. As part of the study, visits were made to 22 local authorities, 228 nurseries, schools and colleges and 345 detailed case studies made of young people in education.
Special Educational Needs
Special Educational Needs cover a range of needs from mild learning, emotional and behavioural difficulties which do not require a statementing process to higher levels of physical and complex needs requiring one-to-one support which is normally gained through a complicated statementing process. Lower levels of SEN diagnosis require additional support for the pupil under "School Action" but this does not necessarily mean extra funding being available. Whatever the nature of the Special Educational Need, teachers, educational psychologists, medical and support staff may be involved in the diagnosis.
Ofsted says that for the pupils who have been misdiagnosed, better teaching and pastoral support alone could have improved their situation. They point to the fact that where additional support has been provided, there is little assessment of how or if this support has helped the pupil improve. Christine Gilbert, Chief Inspector at Ofsted, said "Schools are identifying children as having special educational needs when they need essentially better teaching." However, good examples of practice are also mentioned, including different agencies working together for the benefit of the child.
Ofsted inspectors found a high level of inconsistency in how SEN was diagnosed, some schools diagnosing a high level of SEN whereas other comparable schools diagnosed far fewer pupils as having SEN. "Low attainment," "slow progress," and "not meeting GCSE targets" were some of the areas in which pupils, the report says, were given the wrong SEN diagnosis.
Many parents have long been aware of the unnecessary labels that are sometimes placed on their children and of the prolonged, sometimes fruitless battle with the authorities to have this label removed. One parent, Andria Marsh, who has twins, found that the school her children were attending was willing to start an assessment process on her son who was "lively" in his behaviour when in fact it was his twin sister who really required an assessment because of her epilepsy and learning difficulties. Ofsted's report can therefore provide an useful lever for parents who are concerned about their child's SEN diagnosis.
Reasons for Overdiagnosis
The reasons for overdiagnosis of SEN are several. Ofsted cites procuring additional funding as a possible cause in some schools, as also the pressure from school improvement tables and inspection scores, teachers not managing behaviour or attainment of some pupils, and the pressure from parents for extra support for their child.
Ofsted also identified that:
"pupils with SEN are disproportionately from disadvantaged backgrounds. For example, pupils with SEN (with or without statements) in maintained primary and secondary schools are twice as likely to be eligible for free school meals as their peers" and that "Travellers of Irish heritage and Gypsy/Roma children, Mixed White and Black Caribbean, Black Caribbean, Black African, Pakistani children and young people are largely over-represented as having special educational needs." (see also 'Special Needs School in England - Dramatic Rise in Black Pupils' Inclusion Now Vol. 27)
Teaching unions, however, have reacted strongly to the report. Chris Keates, of NASUWT union, said that teachers were being made into scapegoats for the "variability" in SEN diagnosis.
Ofsted's report comes before the government's own Green Paper yet to be published on improving support for special needs pupils. A Green Paper is a provisional document designed to stimulate public debate and usually leading to a White Paper with concrete proposals for action.
*Ofsted, 'Special Educational Needs and Disability Review - a Statement is Not Enough', Sep 2010
This article was first published in October 2010 at suite101.com
The following characteristics were found in the best lessons observed. Although these features are true for good teaching generally, they are particularly true for the teaching of disabled children and young people and those with special educational needs:
When children and young people learned best:
They looked to the teacher for their main learning and to the support staff for support
Assessment was secure, continuous and acted upon
Teachers planned opportunities for pupils to collaborate, work things out for themselves and apply what they had learnt to different situations
Teachers' subject knowledge was good, as was their understanding of pupils' needs and how to help them
Lesson structures were clear and familiar but allowed for adaptation and flexibility
All aspects of a lesson were well thought out and any adaptations needed were made without fuss to ensure that everyone in class had access
Teachers presented information in different ways to ensure all children and young people understood
Teachers adjusted the pace of the lesson to reflect how children and young people were learning
The staff understood clearly the difference between ensuring that children and young people were learning and keeping them occupied
Respect for individuals was reflected in high expectations for their achievement
The effectiveness of specific types of support was understood and the right support was put in place at the right time.
When children and young people's learning was least successful:
Teachers did not spend enough time finding out what children and young people already knew or had understood
Teachers were not clear about what they expected children and young people to learn as opposed to what they expected them to do
The roles of additional staff were not planned well or additional staff were not trained well and the support provided was not monitored sufficiently
Expectations of disabled children and young people and those who had special educational needs were low
Communication was poor: teachers spent too much time talking, explanations were confusing, feedback was inconsistent
Language was too complex for all children and young people to understand
The tone, and even body language, used by adults was confusing for some of the children and young people who found social subtleties and nuances difficult to understand
Activities and additional interventions were inappropriate and were not evaluated in terms of their effect on children and young people's learning
Resources were poor, with too little thought having been given to their selection and use
Children and young people had little engagement in what they were learning, usually as a result of the above features.
Taken from 'Special Educational Needs and Disability Review - A Statement is Not Enough' OFSTED 2010
Candoco's Young Dancers
It was a miserable, cold Tuesday evening when I arrived at The Place, one of the UK's leading dance centres just a few minutes from London's King's Cross Station. Inside, the building was full of light and energy, the kind of buzz that comes from being in a place full of creative people who want to dance. This is one of the two centres in London where Candoco Dance Company runs classes for disabled and non disabled young people who long to be part of this energy and Sarah Blanc is their welcoming, committed Youth Dance Manager.
One of the longest standing members Housni Hassan, known to everyone as DJ, is now in his twenties and started dancing as a teenager. 'My mum thought it was going to be good for me. She said, just go ahead. Coming here to this company class each week is like a family - I'm a naturally creative person and each week I'm coming back into my own world of adventure.'
Katy Cracknell, now studying performing arts at Barnet College has been coming for about three years. She had known about the Youth Group for some time. 'I really wanted to join Candoco but I used to look at the pictures of the company and think I'd never be good enough to dance with them. Then I found out about Youth Dance. I wanted to try to do something creative, to meet people and be part of a team. It's very sociable. When I was younger, I went to an acting-musical class. It wasn't all bad, but I felt very different. I couldn't keep up and I didn't make friends easily. Dancing here makes me feel good about myself. It's very accommodating and welcoming - whatever disability you have, we're all included.'
'Inclusion' is a word that these young dancers use with ease. Louise Lee is 14 and the youngest member of the group. On the night we met, it had taken her father two hours to drive them in from their home in Upminster, but she thinks it's worth it - she's been waiting a long time to join Candoco.
'A teacher told me about Candoco when I was 6 or 7, I liked the idea of it but I was too young. Usually you have to be 14 but they let me in a year earlier because I was so keen!' Louise has always been in mainstream schools where she is clearly popular with lots of friends, but being in an inclusive dance group adds a different dimension to her life. 'As a disabled person, it makes me feel confident, so I can really discover what I can do. I don't want to be limited by my disability. At school, they do tap dancing, jazz and ballet and I can't do that stuff. The teachers do try to include me in everything possible but they can only see how to teach dance in one way and since I can't do it in that way, they don't see that I can do it at all. Here, there are a whole range of people and the teachers use all our strengths to be part of the dance team. It works with non disabled people too - you get a good mix.
Luke Pell, Candoco's inspirational Head of Learning & Development, explains that the company was started 14 years ago by Pippa Stock, originally just as an informal group that ran for two weeks in the school holidays. Now there are two weekly groups, one at The Place and a second class at the Siobhan Davies Studios in south London. Luke is keen to emphasise how important it is that these groups are based in places which are rooted in professional dance. 'It allows these young people to be part of the dance world that they are often excluded from. It creates a serious atmosphere where they can make extraordinary art. We aim to offer young disabled and non disabled dancers the opportunity to socialise outside the school setting and nurture a genuine curiosity in other dancers' abilities and skills, but in addition to this, we can offer them a realistic picture of what it is like to be a professional dancer. We want young disabled people to be ambitious and learn the skills and techniques to prepare them for the future, but we don't want to build false expectations.'
The youth groups are fun and sociable but the teachers challenge the students and take them out of their comfort zones, making them explore their bodies and their strengths. A wheelchair user who stays in her wheelchair all day at school might be encouraged to get out of the chair and balance by leaning against her partner's back. Dancers are also given the opportunity to choreograph work.
They also are learning things about what other disabled people can do - those who can do less than you, those who do things differently. As Louise says, 'if you suggest other things that people can't do, they tell you, but not in a nasty way and you have to work together to find a better plan. Just because you're disabled, it doesn't mean you know everything about other people's disabilities.'
Storme Toolis, now 18 and in her second year studying A Levels at City and Islington College, also feels that she has learned a great deal and not just in terms of technique and artistry. 'It isn't a conventional dance class, it's as far away from a dance class in a school or college as you can imagine. It's a great model for inclusion because there is such a variety of people but it can also be quite challenging.' At one point, Storme was partnered with a young dancer who didn't communicate through speech. 'Normally I'm on the receiving end of people not knowing what to do with me,' she said. 'I know what I can actually do, even if others don't see it. Now I had to learn how to talk to and work with a disabled person who couldn't do what I can do - it was a real learning curve for me and not always a comfortable one.'
Candoco is open to new dancers - no previous experience necessary, just interest and commitment. So if you know any 16-24 year olds who want to dance and have fun, contact Sarah Blanc on email@example.com or check out their website: www.candoco.co.uk
Why I Believe Inclusion is the Key to Healing this Country
I am now 36, and have been involved with the NHS for half my life. I have worked in a hospice for the past 8 years, but prior to that I trained as a GP, and as a junior doctor I worked on acute medical wards and spent time working in Casualty. As a young doctor, I used to feel very frustrated by the problems I was dealing with.
So many people end up in hospital because of harm that they have done to themselves or others through abuse of drugs and alcohol, and many vulnerable people end up being admitted to hospitals because they simply don't have a supportive community around them that feels able to care for them. I felt stuck in a rut, often to the point of thinking of changing my career. I felt that I could patch the problems up, but didn't know how to fix the underlying issues that would inevitably mean the same problems would keep on arising.
As a GP, I found that lonely people would often come to simply talk to me, often faking some ailment to justify the appointment. Again, it saddened me that all I could do was listen to these people. I have been much happier working in a hospice, although it frustrates me that many people wish to die at home, but they end up being admitted to the hospice as they don't have the support that they need within their community. I feel that in general terms, as a society we have lost the ability to care for and support one another, and in a crisis we rely upon "professionals" who are often overworked or under-resourced to meet our needs adequately.
In August 2003, I gave birth to two beautiful babies. It became apparent over time that my daughter, Emily, was quite severely disabled. For a long time, we had no diagnosis, and I spent a lot of time researching all sorts of therapies and trying different things to try and help her development progress. I found out that she could go to a special school from the age of 2 if she had a statement. I assumed because it was called "special" and it was hard to get in to, it must be good, and the teachers at the school would know how to get her to do the things that I couldn't, like talking, using her hands etc! I thought that if I got her there as soon as she was 2, there was plenty of time for her to "catch up" and be ready to start mainstream school with her brother when they were 4.
Emily did start at the special school part time, but it became very apparent that she wasn't going to "catch up"! The staff at the school were lovely and so were the children, but I used to feel very sad taking her there. I used to notice how Emily was one of the least able in the class, and I used to look at the other children and wonder why she couldn't do some of the things they were doing. Emily also went to a local mainstream pre-school with her brother, Thomas. I felt so much happier when she was there, and I used to see the similarities between her and the other children, rather than the differences.
Emily was eventually diagnosed with Rett Syndrome when she was 3 and a half, and this enabled me to put things into perspective and start to think about how I wanted her life to be. I had read things about inclusive education and the theories all made sense. However, I found it difficult to see how someone like Emily, who I think fits into the category of "Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties" could be included within a mainstream school.
To cut a long story short, Emily started at the same mainstream school as her brother in reception full time, and she is now in year 2. There have been issues along the way, but I have absolutely no doubt that Emily should be in mainstream school, and there is no way she will ever set foot in a special school again. I have learnt that Emily is wonderful the way that she is, and I would not change her for the world.
I absolutely agree with the Coalition Government's idea of "big society"....I just think they are going about it totally the wrong way! I really believe the way to create a better society in this country is to close all the special schools and create a truly inclusive education system where all kids basically go to their local mainstream school and get an excellent education that equips them to lead a useful and happy life in the future. Children need to learn that we are all different, and we all have our own unique gifts and skills. Segregating children who are disabled or have behavioural difficulties only disempowers communities and makes them believe that "professional" people are needed to meet the needs of those who need extra support.
In a truly inclusive school, children would learn how to support one another, and they would feel happy to be themselves. As adults, they would have better self esteem and would not be blighted so much by the problems I used to deal with on a daily basis as a GP. They would not be afraid to take responsibility for members of their community in difficulty and as a consequence there would be far less pressure on public services, such as health and social care and the police force. Radical changes are needed in this country. I used to feel that there were no solutions to many of the problems within our society, but having Emily and discovering "inclusion" has enabled me to see that the way to create a "big society" has to be the creation of a truly inclusive education system.
This thinking is based on my close association with people with the label of 'Learning Difficulties' and their families, and has taken many years to get into words. I am speaking primarily as an ally, although as a person born with a very visible physical disability, I have also been the victim of the oppression because of the false assumptions made about 'people like me' by professionals.
No oppression is more important than another, they are all wrong and must be ended, but I think it is true that there is a staged journey from denial to liberation for every oppressed group. Some are farther along the journey than others. As we uncover each one, we uncover a hidden truth about ourselves, about the nature of our humanity. The oppression of people with learning difficulties - also called 'retarded', 'mentally handicapped ', 'mental defectives' and other such labels - is only just emerging from our confusion into a visible theory of mistaken ideology, false assumptions and lies.
In all oppressive societies there is a ruling minority and a subordinate majority. This could not continue without the collusion of the majority population who, obviously, outnumber the ruling elite by somewhere around 90-1. The myth is that the ruling elite are there because of their superiority of mind, morals and might, i.e. it is 'natural'.
It is superiority of 'mind' that I have been thinking about.
It seems that every oppressed group are made to feel less intelligent than their oppressors. Women have had to fight for the right to an education or to be allowed to vote; black people have been viewed as only capable of manual labour; working class people are supposed to be less intelligent than the other classes (once called the 'feeble-minded' class in Britain); children and young people have their thinking ignored; disabled people have all been assumed to be of below average intelligence. Even subordinate nations are subject to having their inhabitants stereotyped as 'thick' - remember all those jokes in England about the Irish?
Some people fall under the very sharp edge of this myth. They are people who have their intelligence measured in tests and do not do well. They are almost universally de-valued, segregated, and mistreated. In some countries they are institutionalised from birth to death, in others they are hidden in back rooms, and in many richer countries such as Britain and the USA as many as 90% are killed before they are born via State Sponsored Pre Natal Screening Programmes, drawing parents into the web of deceit by persuading them to end the lives of their own unborn children. Many people are still not sure there is anything wrong with this. Why?
I think that there is a big confusion in the world between intelligence and intellect. Our intelligence is who we are, our humanity. It includes our ability to relate to each other, our creativity and enjoyment of the arts, our sense of humour, wisdom, practical skills and craftmanship we develop, sporting prowess and much else. I have never met a person who is not intelligent in this sense.
Our intellect is a piece of our intelligence specifically to do with the acquisition of knowledge, memory and application. The oppression lies in the false connection between our intellect and our worth as human beings. How did this come about?
The history of intelligence tests
In order for us to be useful and productive 'workers', our knowledge base has been tightly defined and controlled by those who wish to exploit us. They need to focus our access to learning on the requirements of the 'marketplace'. As these requirements have become more complex, our education systems have developed accordingly. However, as far back as the early 19th century it was noticed that some people could not learn all that was needed, or as quickly as others and they were seen as blocking progress. They were targeted for removal from the ordinary classroom. To avoid protest and rebellion, it was useful to the capitalists to be able to produce a scientific rationale for this exclusion.
The first intelligence tests were designed in France by Alfred Binet in 1904 on request of the French Government who wanted to remove these children from ordinary schools to allow them to be trained in repetitive and menial work, and to stop them interrupting the education of the others. Interestingly though, Binet himself quickly saw the dangers in these tests getting into the hands of Eugenicists or Social Darwinists (people who believed in genetically inherited levels of intelligence) and "being used as a general device for ranking all pupils according to mental worth".
He explained that:
"The (Binet) scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measuring of intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable (do not fit neatly one on top of the other) and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured." Alfred Binet
When his fears went on to be well founded, especially by the development in the USA by Louis Terman (who coined the phrase IQ - Intelligence Quotient in 1916) he went on to say:
"Some recent thinkers [have affirmed] that an individual's intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be increased. We must react and protest against this brutal pessimism: we must try to demonstrate that they are founded on nothing." Alfred Binet
This protest was ignored and the tests went on to have a profound influence in the development of education systems in many places around the world. This only got worse when Cyril Burt, the first Educational Psychologist appointed in London in 1913, an energetic and committed eugenicist who wrote a lot, (his books included 'The Young Delinquent' 1925, 'The Sub-Normal Mind' 1935 and 'The Backward Child' 1937) claimed he had carried out studies over 30 years on the attainments of separated identical twins, 'proving' that intelligence was inherited and only marginally affected by environmental factors. Despite the later revelation in the 1970s that his research had been fraudulent, these false beliefs live on.
Although the tests have been revised and modernised, their roots and core constructs remain the same. They are still used to set, stream and segregate children and to allocate State resources. The 11+ (an examination children in some parts of England take at the age of 11 in order to gain access to a grammar school) for example is an intelligence test. In fact most tests, qualifications, entrance exams, degrees and so on are testing our ability to retain and regurgitate knowledge. We have no similar examination in our ability to love others or make people laugh. Consequently we have it drummed into us daily that some people are more intelligent than others and therefore are more valuable.
We use these scales constantly to work out how much a job is worth i.e. how much money someone should be paid for doing it, reinforcing our status and value to our employers. We also use them to decide who is unemployable and eligible for State Benefits.
For owning class and upper-middle class people the oppression is just as vicious. They have to learn and keep up the appearance of intellectual superiority in order to keep up the myth. They are educated differently in their own segregated schools, given more access to certain information, (but not real life) taught to be in charge, to speak up and to pretend to know things even when they don't. They have to study hard and pass their exams. They cannot be shy or indecisive. They must know the rules and be able to enforce them or suffer deep humiliation. Many say they live in perpetual fear of being 'found out', of being uncovered as a fraud.
This oppression, like all oppressions, distorts our view of reality. It leads to a set of attitudes and behaviours which could be called 'intellectualism'. Intellectualism over emphasises a small part of our intelligence and ties this up with our worth as human beings. It (almost) ignores all the other facets of our intelligence. It leads in the world to a hierarchy based on this false premise.
The main tools of the oppression are the creation of vastly unequal opportunities to learn, and vastly unequal opportunities to think or have our thinking taken seriously. It makes us all doubt our own intelligence. We are taught to rank ourselves against other people in terms of the best 'thinker', the 'smartest', and to despise 'stupid' people. This starts even before we enter the school system with the child development checklists - "Should be talking by now…"
The oppression separates us from people who are labelled as having learning difficulties and keeps us in an oppressive role towards them. The oppression of people with learning difficulties leads us to force upon them deeply inhuman systems which create further learning, emotional and behavioural difficulties. These systems also dehumanise the workers within them.
Many people without learning difficulties suffer the oppression of people with learning difficulties because of physical, sensory or neurological impairments which prevent them from performing well in IQ tests. This especially includes autism and other impairments which may lead to communication or movement difficulties.
The reality is of course that people with the learning difficulty label are of equal worth to people without that label, have many skills and abilities, and have a lot to teach about the true nature of intelligence and humanity - things which we all need to know.
With thanks to Colin Newton of Inclusive Solutions. See new publication:
'Keys to Inclusion' - Chapter 4 'Paint Portraits - Don't Test Intelligence'
Legal Questions - No. 2
I have been told by the school that my child will not be able to join his class on a school visit unless I go too and look after him. He is autistic. I can't take the time off work. What can I do?
The Equality Act 2010 requires schools to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that any disabled pupils are not placed at a substantial disadvantage to other children at the school. Therefore when planning the trip the school must consider what measures can be reasonably put into place to ensure disabled pupils can take part in the activities.
In addition, the Equality Act states schools must not treat a disabled pupil unfavourably for a reason relating to their disability. For example, if the decision is due to your child's behaviour and this is a trait linked to their autism, the school may have committed discrimination. However, the school will not have discriminated if they are able to justify the decision, for example if your child's attendance would have caused a substantial increase in costs.
If you feel that discrimination may have occurred you should make every effort to resolve the situation through discussions with the school. It would be sensible to arrange a meeting with the head teacher. If that does not resolve matters, you should make a complaint to the Governing Body.
Disability discrimination can only occur when a child meets the legal definition of "disabled". A child is disabled if their disability is long term and this has a substantial and adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.
If your child has a statement of special educational needs which provides your child to full time 1:1 support then you should check whether the teaching assistant will be attending the trip. The school is not entitled to make the teaching assistant responsible for any other children. Parents of children with a statement should also consider seeking support from the local authority's parent partnership officer. They will be able to provide advice and may be able to accompany you to any meetings with the school.
Before the meeting you should request a copy of the risk assessment for the trip to see whether your child's needs were taken into consideration. You should also consult and refer the school to any parts of the Disability Discrimination Code of Practice for Schools you feel may be relevant:
Questions you may wish to ask include:
What have the school done on previous trips?
What level of staffing is being provided?
If the matter remains unresolved, you can make a claim to the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Tribunal within 6 months of the date of the discrimination. The Tribunal can order a range of remedies such as disability training for all staff and/or a formal written apology. However, a tribunal claim is a last resort and the process is protracted and may not conclude until after the trip. Also, the limited nature of the orders available may be of little value in the particular circumstances.
James Betts, Legal Advisor at Maxwell Gillott
Maxwell Gillott is a firm of specialist solicitors, providing legal advice and assistance for clients who face difficulties with the key public services of education, health and social services. www.maxwellgillott.co.uk
Disability History Month Off to a Flying Start
Last July the idea for an annual UK Disability History Month (UKDHM) was sparked by a chance conversation with Sue Saunders, the veteran lesbian and gay rights campaigner and founder of LGBT History Month. Inspired, I quickly contacted many organisations, leading to a founding meeting at the NUT in September last year. Running from 22nd November to 22nd December 2010, the first ever UKDHM more than fulfiled our expectations.
The launch was at the London Institute of Education, on the theme of the struggle for inclusive education. Among the speakers were three headteachers, including the national president of the NUT Gill Goodswen, Kenny Frederick of George Green's school and Manjit Rai of North Beckton Primary School, all enthusiastic proponents of inclusive education. Micheline Mason and I talked of the early days of the struggle and how far we had come. Roger Slee, Professor of Inclusive Education at the Institute said "Tonight is for listening to those who have made inclusion possible, not academics". Parents and young disabled people talked of the great advantage of going to school with their non-disabled peers. Tara Flood called on all present to sign the Alliance Manifesto saying that despite the Coalition Government and David Cameron's absurd assertion of removing the bias for inclusion, the fight would continue as this was what the majority of parents and children wanted. After the talks, Jo Cameron of Parents for Inclusion un-veiled the oil painting 'Portrait of a Movement' by Rosa Branson which is now on permanent display at the Institute.
Further events for UKDHM included:
Selling over 1000 DHM badges
64 trades unions, Disabled People's Organisations and NGOs pledging their support.
The National Union of Teachers giving a whole page of their 'Teacher' magazine to publicise UKDHM, sending it to every school and 300,000 teachers.
The University and College Union producing an A2 wall poster sent to every college and university charting the ups and downs of 200 years of disabled people's struggle for rights.
PCS, the civil service union, holding meetings in a number of workplaces including the Treasury, Newham Primary Care Trust, Merseyside and South Wales.
An Early Day Motion in the Commons, sponsored by PCS, supporting UKDHM and its aims being signed by more than 50 MPs of all parties.
Birmingham Disability Resource Centre holding a day of events of the history of our struggle for rights.
Disability Wales launching 'In Our Words' - an autobiography project of disabled people in Wales.
The holding of a very successful event at the Vassell Centre in Bristol with Redweather Productions, Liz Carr and a theatre group of people with learning difficulties.
The pre-release screening of the film 'Benda Bilili' at the Tricycle Cinema.
The holding of the Disability Film Festival, organised by Paul Darke in 22 cinemas across the country.
Within schools UKDHM assemblies and classwork were carried out all over the country. Now we are planning for UKDHM 2011. People need to be thinking ahead and working out what they are going to do to celebrate our on-going struggle for rights. Let us know on firstname.lastname@example.org and check out our website: www.ukdisabilityhistorymonth.com
UKDHM National Co-ordinator