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Inclusion and Performance

Thursday, 29 September, 2016

A strength of our school is that we take inclusion seriously – and we have the staff awareness and expertise to do so. Here is Jonathan Matthew-Hirsch’s blog contribution on the topic. Glad to have him leading the Student Support Services!

At BBIS, we pride ourselves in creating an inclusive learning environment so all students can reach their potential but what exactly do we mean by ‘inclusive educational practice’ and how does it benefit all members of our student body? I believe that inclusive education is a constantly evolving process of change and improvement so that our school structure, curriculum and practices are flexible enough to accommodate any learner in order to achieve both academic and social success. When children attend classes that reflect the similarities and differences of people they learn to appreciate diversity. Respect and understanding grow when children of differing abilities and cultures play and learn together. The philosophy of inclusive education is aimed at helping all children achieve so everyone in the class benefits as students learn at their own pace and style within a nurturing learning environment.

With the help and support of all stakeholders (the board, teachers and administration, parents and students) we have developed a strategic plan that highlights our core values and aims. This has sometimes led to areas of healthy debate and questioning. For one such example: Is it possible to be an inclusive school and yet achieve “personal excellence” for all students? On the surface I would strongly argue ‚yes‘as the two ideas are not mutually exclusive and providing and creating an inclusive environment is very much about meeting individual needs and having appropriate expectations (academic, social, behavioural etc) on a personal level…what ever they may be. However, when this question is raised I think people are genuinely asking how a policy of inclusion affects attainment for both the students with learning needs and for those without. A quick scan of the available research suggests there are many benefits on all levels for students with disabilities to attend school alongside their mainstream peers. However, there are fewer studies available in regard to the attainment, benefits etc. of a policy of inclusion on the non-disabled students. It is worth mentioning at this point that none of the research was undertaken in an international school setting. In fact, the studies that have been undertaken have come to the full range of possible conclusions i.e. it is detrimental to the students without learning needs; or, there is no affect one way or the other; or, it significantly enhances the attainment of both disabled and non-disabled students. So, what conclusions can we extrapolate from this, albeit, small body of research. The most objective summary I found came from a UK Government Research report simply entitled, „Inclusion and Pupil Achievement“(Dyson, Farrell, Polat, Hutcheson and Gallannaugh 2004). Their key findings included:

·     There is considerable variation in the performance of schools with similar levels of inclusivity, suggesting that school level factors are more important than levels of inclusivity per se.

·     The case studies suggest that highly-inclusive schools tend to manage inclusion in broadly similar ways which seem likely to minimise any impact inclusion might have on attainment.

·     Some evidence was found that inclusion can have positive effects on the wider achievements of all pupils, such as social skills and understanding.

·     Evidence suggests that pupils with special educational needs (SEN) can and do make progress academically, personally and socially.

·     The detail of how highly-inclusive and higher-performing schools manage provision is different in each case. However, there is a model which seems to depend on flexibility of grouping, customisation of provision to individual circumstances and careful individual monitoring, alongside population-wide strategies for raising attainment.

That last point is something I very much see in action at BBIS and the school’s approach to inclusion and raising levels of attainment. My hope is that the BBIS community can speak in terms of being ‘inclusive and higher attaining’ rather than ‘inclusive or high performing’.

Jonathan Matthews-Hirsch 
Head of Student Support Services

Dyson, A, Farell, P, Polat, F, Hutcheson, G and Gallennaugh F, Inclusion and Pupil Achievement, Department for Education and Skills, Research Report RR578, http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20130401151715/http://www.education.gov.uk/publications/eOrderingDownload/RR578.pdf