Every person has their own compass which we use to navigate the decisions we make in life and in our professional roles. I find that this can be a useful visualisation when faced with strategic and operational decisions with regards to the sensitive and wide-ranging understanding of inclusion and special educational needs. I have been wondering about where this image presented itself and solidified in my thoughts. I realised that perhaps watching ‘His Dark Materials’ featuring the imagery of a golden compass used as an alethiometer to tell the truth, may have stuck in my mind and morphed into the development of an idea. I like to think that we all have our own golden compass that we carry with us, internally aiding us in determining which direction to go that would be best for our own and others well-being.
I view inclusion as an aspirational concept that can be used as a multifaceted tool in unlocking barriers to equality and facilitating access to high quality education for all. Due to this nature it is therefore the lack of and absence of difficulties that deems an environment inclusive rather than the presence of a tangible visible thing to strive for. As you can imagine it then follows that it is exceedingly difficult to measure and in the same way challenging to create pathways and definitive guides to being effectively inclusive. Focus on strategic leadership, ensuring an inclusive cultural ethos is embedded through whole school approaches, would be the most effective way to visibly observe inclusive practices. For example, identifiable in policies, systems and processes, focus on CPD training, targeted interventions, evaluating effectiveness of 1:1 support and best practice modelling for high quality first teaching in the classroom.
I am privileged to have a unique perspective and opportunity in my role to train new teachers coming into the profession and the opportunity of having the creative scope and space to design and write our National Award for Special Educational Needs Coordination (NASENCO), training SENCOs at masters level on how to implement operational and strategic inclusive practice in their schools.
I often ask my SENCOs to visualise this internal compass when faced with a challenging situations or decisions where they may be pulled in different directions. I often use this for many other decisions in my life that go beyond the scope of education and it fares me well when I remember to set the compass at a core value of which only, I can define. So, I would ask you to think about your core values and how this may manifest in your teaching practice or your role within your setting. Consider whether your core values serve as a positive trajectory towards inclusive practice. We need to ask ourselves what drives our direction and whether we put the child at the heart of our decisions? If we ask ourselves these kinds of questions to support setting our internal compass, we are less likely to trip up on our human psychological biases.
From my extensive reading and research around the topic, there have been key components highlighted that demonstrate good inclusive practice in schools. Key findings show that relationships nurtured in schools that are collaborative and encourage teamwork and genuine caring were deemed to be highly inclusive schools. (Corbett, 2001). Other supporting research looks at the importance of promoting pupil voice and facilitating parent partnerships, a permanenting belief that children can succeed if given the right tools through scaffolding and effective high quality differentiated teaching, an environment that uses its best endeavours to make learning accessible, an ethos and culture that is unjudgmental in nature and in particular to note that in inclusive schools, change is seen as a positive vehicle for growth.
The difficulty often comes in schools when there is conflict between core inclusive values that individual teachers might hold that may not be in line with current school improvement targets. The same is true vice versa where senior leaders may be attempting to disseminate inclusive practice and values, where individuals who may have a rigid fixed mindset, resist buy in to new inclusive initiatives. This is where an internal inclusive compass will be vital in navigating differing obstacles that may attempt to circumvent inclusive vision.
I believe that there is a genuine desire for knowledge seeking understanding of how to implement inclusion. This allows more space for holding meaningful conversations surrounding the most effective ways to provide and meet the needs of all children and young people. The best way to do this is to empower and upskill teachers and leaders to feel confident in understanding what inclusion means in their context and how to implement it effectively in practice to ensure children have the opportunities to reach their learning potential.
I have become dedicated to ensuring that’s trainee teachers and SENCOs feel confident and empowered in identifying, planning, implementing provision and evaluating its effectiveness in order to improve the potential likelihood of positive outcomes for pupils that goes beyond school and into lifelong learning. The overall aim of inclusive education is that children can thrive and become effective contributors towards society, living fulfilled lives.
Coming back to the concept of your internal inclusive compass, we need to identify our true core values and how they determine whether we move along the spectrum of inclusive practice and ensure that the child is at the heart of our decisions.
Corbett, J. (2001) Supporting inclusive education: A connected pedagogy. London: Routledge Falmer