Archive | January, 2016

The Inclusion agenda: how do we get the best for all of our students?

22 Jan

This year, I have taken on a new role line managing Inclusion. Previous to this, I was leading on teaching and learning but after doing this for nearly three years, I kept getting this nagging feeling and asked myself:
Are all students getting the same quality learning experience?
And, if I’m being really honest, the answer was ‘No, not really’. We have made great strides with our teaching and learning, and our results and progress measures have all shown significant improvement. However, from walking around school and going into classrooms every day, I knew that some of our most vulnerable students were not having the same experiences as their peers. Teachers were trying their best but there were still too many blank faces or students disengaging because they couldn’t access the content.
As a result, I asked my head to move me across from teaching and learning to Inclusion. What a shock it has been to the system!!! I thought I knew what was going on in school but until I started having daily contact with the Inclusion department, I had no idea about what was really going on. Before I go any further, I have to state that our SENCO who is on maternity, our acting SENCO, our Pupil Premium coordinator and our team of TAs are doing a fantastic job. From 8am till the caretakers kick them out, these wonderful people are spending their whole day trying to make sure our most vulnerable students have a good experience at school. Sometimes it’s disheartening – it’s easy to get bogged down in all the difficulties and lose hope – especially in the face of ever-dwindling budgets and an increase in the amount of students who need extra support. I’ve had more moments in the last four months than the previous three years where I’ve woken up in the middle of the night worrying about certain students; it’s hard to leave it at the door when you know the full story of what is going on in certain students’ lives. Yet it also produces high-fives-in-the-air fist-pumping whooping when you make a small gain with a student who is at risk of not making it. It really is, excuse the cliché, a rollercoaster of emotions over in the world of Inclusion.
The first thing I had to realise is you can’t fix everything overnight. The world of SEND can be a very slow and arduous process, mired in a mountain of paperwork. It can also take a long time to really get to the bottom of what is going on for a student. Teacher might be exclaiming “This student’s behaviour is outrageous!”, “This student doesn’t care about their work” or “This student doesn’t write anything” but it’s our job to try and diagnose the cause of the students’ behaviour. Can they access the learning? Is it frustration or fear causing that reaction? Are they showing off to save face? Did they have a quiet space to do their work at home? Did they misinterpret the instructions but were too shy to let the teacher know? Are they pretending to follow the textbook when they have a reading age of eight years old? Don’t get me wrong: there are times when the student is just being a typical stroppy teenager and their behaviour has nothing to do with their SEN but there are other times when the student needs our help in sharing with teachers how they’re feeling and support them in overcoming their barriers.
This year, my remit is to consider how pedagogy and curriculum can make a difference to students who need extra support. In September, we are going to open an Alternative Resource Provision specialising in speech and language and we are keen to use this as a springboard to focus on how we can become a more communication-friendly school. We have many students who have speech, language and communication needs who will benefit from a whole school approach to developing our teaching to have a stronger focus on communication in all its forms. Moreover, from my work with disadvantaged students, we have also identified that many of these students struggle to articulate their ideas and find it difficult to express themselves coherently, verbally and on paper. So we feel that training staff on specific speech and language strategies will benefit a wide range of students. The borough and NHS have provided us with some really thought-provoking training and given us specific resources and strategies to trial with our classes. Linked to this, we are starting our third year of Lesson Study and have made speech and language our focus. I have been very fortunate to have had the support of our Research and Development lead in finding a wealth of articles, journals and blogs on different aspects of SLCN. Finally, all departments have pledged their Communication Commitment; each department is focusing on three specific strategies to trial in their area, focusing on vocabulary, sequencing/organising material and memory retention. I think we are at a very exciting stage at school and it is great to see teachers talking about learning with this focus on Inclusion.
As well as refining our teaching, I have also been considering how effective our curriculum offer is for students who need something more than the standard curriculum offer. We have a very good curriculum in the main but we have been slow to recognise that too many students who have SEN, are classified as disadvantaged and are low attainers on entry are slipping through the net. We have extra Literacy and Numeracy classes, which we call Learning Plus but this is very much a sticking plaster for a great big gaping wound. We have a menu of interventions to support students with SEN but it’s still a reactive process; their progress report will pick up if they’re at risk of underachievement and then we can identify which intervention might help them close the learning gap. In an attempt to proactive rather than reactive, we are trying to create more developed and differentiated pathways for these learners where they only have a handful of teachers to improve consistency of approach, and they are taught elements of literacy and numeracy in all their subjects, in every lesson. They do not cover the same breadth of the curriculum because the pace of learning is slower but the focus is on mastery and seeing how literacy and numeracy is relevant in all aspects of their learning. The hope is that these students will use key stage three to close the learning gaps and have greater opportunities to succeed in a range of courses at key stage four.
So this is where I’m at after one term in my new role. I’ve never been so tired in January but I’m really excited to be learning about something so important. If we can really get Inclusion right, live and breathe it and not just pay lip service to it, then I think we can move from being a ‘Good’ school to a great one. If anyone working in Inclusion has any thoughts on our SLCN focus or curriculum pathways, please let me know!

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