Overcoming the barriers to inclusive education
There’s been criticism of the government and scrutiny into the idea of a fully inclusive education system as children identified with special educational needs and disability (SEND) have received funding cuts of 17% across England since 2015.
In fact, it’s been argued that: “The development of inclusive education has been stalled by the problems of its definition and of the government’s acceptance of this form of education”, referring to the government’s statement: “Inclusive education means that all children are together in mainstream classrooms. This… is far more efficient and effective than special schools and special classrooms.”
Essentially, the government has shifted focus away from “systemic issues such as equitable outcomes and resource distribution” and onto teachers. While teachers themselves buckle under increased stress levels induced by trying to cater for students of all capabilities in the same classroom.
It’s no wonder then that recent research suggested that children with SEND risk “being perceived as an onerous adjunct to an already stressful ‘regular’ teaching role.” Meaning children with SEND are being side lined under the guise of “inclusive education”.
But when we get down to the crux of it, what do we really mean by an inclusive education, and how can schools support their teachers to provide for the needs of SEND children?
What is an inclusive education?
Inclusive education refers to the ideal of “fair access to learning for all.” Indeed, according to UNICEF: “Inclusive education is the most effective way to give all children a fair chance to go to school, learn, and develop the skills they need to thrive.”
As a result, inclusive teaching means providing real learning opportunities for groups who have traditionally been excluded. This refers not just to children with disabilities, but speakers of minority languages too.
Essentially, inclusive systems allow pupils of all backgrounds to have the same opportunities to grow and learn according to their own abilities, while also supporting their parents to engage in their education, ultimately to the benefit of all.
Why is inclusive education important?
Worldwide, there are an estimated 240 million children with disabilities. Yet, while children with SEND require the same access to quality education as other children to bring their dreams and ambitions to life, these children are frequently overlooked when it comes to policymaking.
In fact, worldwide, these children are among the most likely to be out of school due to the barriers they face in getting the education they deserve. For instance, because of discrimination, language barriers, stigma, and the de-prioritisation of their needs by senior decision makers.
And these failings don’t just hinder children with SEND in their school years, as the lack of quality education that caters to their needs can prevent them from taking up meaningful employment and experiencing independence later in life.
Providing an inclusive education, therefore, is the key to giving all children a fair and equal start in life.
What are the barriers to inclusive education?
Unfortunately, many of the key stakeholders responsible for ensuring access to an inclusive education can also be responsible for prohibiting this very thing. This is in large part due to the fact that people with disabilities can still be culturally ostracised by non-disabled people.
Negative attitudes to disabled people can lead to them being ignored in classrooms, left out by peers, and bullied by society in general. Of course, in an environment like this, children with SEND cannot be expected to thrive. As a result, what’s required is greater education and understanding of disabilities and special educational needs to promote attitudinal inclusivity.
While it’s all well and good talking about what goes on inside a classroom to promote inclusivity, if a disabled child cannot get into that classroom, they are automatically excluded from the education they might receive.
The issue of accessibility, however, isn’t just classroom based. It stems right down to public transport facilities, school locations, and parental support. This means major systemic change is required to ensure all students can access the education they deserve, with online learning being delivered where necessary.
- Lack of training
Teaching pupils of varying abilities, who all learn in a different way, and some of which have access needs requires training. However, at present, teacher training is “fragmented, uncoordinated, and inadequate.” Meaning teachers are unequipped and may have negative attitudes towards SEND pupils.
Add to this the fact that teachers are already under enormous amounts of pressure, and even the SEND pupils that are not physically excluded from classrooms may find their needs are just not being catered for.
- Funding and policies
As previously mentioned, funding for inclusive education has been consistently cut since 2015, indicating that policy makers do not fully believe in the need for all pupils to access a quality education. This can impact on the ability of schools to train teachers, bring in specialist staff, and provide other support.
- Language barriers
This point refers not just to young people in schools, some of whom will not speak English as a 1st language, but to their parents. The needs of parents who speak minority languages are often overlooked, but considering parental engagement is considered a greater predicter of student outcomes than schooling itself, schools should be making it a priority to engage every parent across the board.
Overcoming barriers: could parents and carers be the key?
According to Unicef: “At the school level, teachers must be trained, buildings must be refurbished, and students must receive accessible learning materials.
“At the community level, stigma and discrimination must be tackled and individuals need to be educated on the benefit of inclusive education.
“At the national level, Governments must align laws and policies with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and regularly collect and analyse data to ensure children are reached with effective services.”
However, there’s a key group missing from Unicef’s statement here, and that’s parents and carers.
As we mentioned in the previous section, parental engagement has a greater impact on pupil attainment than any other aspect of schooling.
Parents also have the potential to educate their children about discrimination, influence perceptions in the wider community, raise PTA funds to help make facilities more accessible, and advocate for students who don’t have the voice, or confidence, to do so themselves. In short: they are the one group that can contribute to everything Unicef recommends for creating a more inclusive educational environment.
But if parents are excluded from the school community – due to language barriers, learning disabilities, physical accessibility issues, financial inequalities, and other obstacles – their child will have access to fewer opportunities, and overall educational inclusivity will be limited as a result.
So, how can schools ensure that they are as inclusive as possible to parents and carers, too?
Case Study: Overcoming Language Barriers
With nearly nine-in-ten families speaking English as an additional language, Ofsted 'Outstanding' rated Highfields Primary School was determined to improve inclusivity and close the gap between school and home.
The school has now transformed how it involves and engages all parents.
It’s time for a more inclusive future
Educational technology can be an extremely powerful tool for promoting inclusivity, making it easier to prioritise pupil wellbeing, promote accessibility, and encourage parental engagement.
At Weduc, our school apps are available in an ever-expanding range of languages, to help overcome communication barriers between schools, parents, and students. Our software tools, meanwhile, make it easy for schools to reach out in all sorts of different ways at the touch of a button.
For example, whether a parent or carer finds an SMS, email, website update, social media post, or ‘no reading’ video message easier to digest, it only takes seconds to send out consistent messages across all of these channels. And for those parents and carers who don’t have access to a computer or smartphone, printed letters will be automatically generated too.
Likewise, if parents and carers require more specialised communications (due to language barriers, SEND requirements, or accessibility needs), schools can create ‘groups’ in the system to ensure they only receive comms that are relevant to their needs.
Beyond communications, the Weduc Platform enables online parents evenings for those who can’t easily get into school, and our Online School Payments system helps schools accommodate online payments, cash, card, and parents without bank accounts.
And if you’re not sure what parents, carers, and their children need to make your educational offering more inclusive? Well, you can always use your fired-up communications system to ask, too. Because we’ve made it easier than ever to bring your school community closer together.
If you’re interested in any of our software or services, from the ReachMoreParents communications platform to our parent app and custom branded apps for schools, click here to book an informal chat at a time that suits you.
Alternatively, drop us a line via our enquiry form, or give us a call on 01509 221 349.