Inclusion in the educational system affirms the obligation for pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) to be educated alongside their peers in mainstream classes. But inclusion of pupils with SEN in mainstream schools remains challenging even as the current climate and the future focus more on an inclusive culture. Inclusive practice puts the onus on the mainstream teacher to provide an environment to cater for pupils of diverse abilities. Even though the Department of Education and Science in Ireland (DES) recommends an inclusive system of education for pupils with SEN, many are still being withdrawn from their class for supplementary teaching. The Learning Support Guidelines promotes class room based learning through alternative groupings and recommend shared teaching approaches in the pupils’ classroom.
For pupils with SEN, ideally the provision of supplementary teaching is through in-class support where professional development is seen as prerequisite in helping teachers to effectively support pupils with SEN but teacher knowledge, expertise and training show great deficiencies and inadequacies. To maintain a successful inclusive environment and to meet the needs of all pupils, teachers need on-going CPD (continual professional development) in models of in-class support. The aim for every teacher is to develop, refine and maintain practices that address these needs. Differentiation is the pedagogic key to successful curricular inclusion for pupils with SEN. Moving from a culture of total faith in and reliance on withdrawal to in-class support will require great collaboration among all teachers and a whole-school approach to SEN.
This assignment deals with the issues and dilemmas associated with reaching the ideal of in-class support for learning with SEN in the mainstream primary classroom. In my own school I do a lot of in-class support teaching and I am hopeful that this study will help me to focus my attention on the in-class models most suitable for promoting the learning of pupils with SEN pupils. The overall aim of this study is to explore the issues associated with inclusion of pupils with SEN in mainstream classrooms, where inclusion focuses on in-class support as opposed to the more traditional and out-moded practice of withdrawal. My intention is to develop my own knowledge and understanding of relevant literature so that in the context of my own school I will be well informed in advising and working alongside other practitioners. To address this aim I have set myself a number of questions, answers to which will inform policy and practice in my own school:
1. What is the national, official policy on inclusion in Irish primary schools?
2. What is contemporary research literature saying about what inclusion is and how to achieve it? In particular, what counts as effective inclusion?
3. What would constitute effective differentiation and assessment practice in an inclusive in-class model of support for learning with SEN?
4. What are the barriers for teachers in adopting effective inclusion practices in mainstream primary school classes?
Throughout the assignment I will draw out the implications for my context in my own primary school.
Mindful of these questions I will begin by examining the development of inclusion in education in Ireland. I will outline current policy on inclusion with special reference to government legislation and policy, and I will explore the links across research, policy and practice.
Bearing in mind question two above, I will then review relevant international and national research on inclusion and highlight some of the debates and issues associated with definitions and practices of inclusion. Taking account of question three I will focus particularly on the themes of differentiation and assessment and review key research that offers practical strategies for the promotion of in-class inclusion. Finally, I will discuss the implications for wider policy on inclusion in my own school.
Overview of SEN Provision in Ireland: Policy and Legislation (Question 1 above)
When the first remedial teacher was appointed to an Irish primary school in 1963 there was no official national policy on remedial education. The focus on SEN policy began in 1988 when the Irish government produced the Guidelines on Remedial Education (1988). Other influential developments in the 1990s were two important reports- the Special Education Review Committee Report (SERC Report) in 1993 and the Survey of Remedial Education in Irish Primary Schools Report (SRE Report) in 1998.
These reports paved the way for the Education Act in 1998 requiring mainstream schools to identify and provide for pupils with SEN and requiring the Minister for Education and Science to provide both the appropriate support services and quality of education to people with disabilities or other SEN. An objective of the Education Act (p. 5) is ‘to make provision, in the interests of the common good for the education of every person in the state, including any person with a disability or who has other special educational needs’. In its definition of disability (p. 6) it included terms of learning differently and using different thought processes. The Education for Persons with Special Educational Needs (EPSEN) Act in 2004 (p 36/37) gave a similar definition of SEN as:
a restriction in the capacity of the person to participate in, and benefit from, education on account of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or learning disability, or any other condition which results in a person learning differently from a person without that condition and cognate words shall be construed accordingly.
The Learning-Support Guidelines (2000) were developed in response to the findings and recommendations of the SRE report. They set out the aims of learning support education and provided practical advice for schools on the organisation of a positive school environment for children with SEN.
Griffin and Shevlin (2007), note the significance of these developments in moulding the statutory structure of the 2004 EPSEN Act where and where the duties and responsibilities of school personnel and boards of management for SEN are outlined. This act, which holds schools responsible for SEN provision and management through its outline of the roles and responsibilities of school personnel and management and rights of parents, is concerned with the formation and implementation of education plans for children with assessed SEN. It set up an independent agency funded by the state, the National Council for Special Education (NCSE) whose function is to plan and co-ordinate the provision of support services to pupils for SEN using an inclusive approach to education.
As education policies worldwide focus on inclusion national developments in Ireland reacted and responded accordingly. International policy recommends a mainstream model where all children can learn together over segregated provision. Space prevents a full discussion here but it is noteworthy that the most influential is the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO, 1994) which advocated inclusion of all abilities. Subsequently, the Dakar Statement (UNESCO, 2000) and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities (UN 2006), (two reports which have not been adopted in all countries) along with many EU policy documents and OECD reports refer to the possibilities of including all learners in mainstream education providing education based on equality, citizenship and individual and societal well-being.
Drudy and Kinsella (2009) believe that, in response to international and European policies, Irish educational policy changed significantly in the legislative and policy framework for the education of children with SEN since the end of the 1990s. Swan (2000) described the provision of SEN in Ireland passing through three stages- the stage of neglect and denial; the stage of the special school; and the stage of integration and inclusion. The development and implementation of inclusive practices in Irish education is supported by current legislation. The present policy of the DES is to provide the greatest level of inclusion in mainstream primary and post-primary schools and when this is not possible the DES provides for them through special schools and special classes based in mainstream settings.
In the past pupils with SEN attended special schools or classes resulting in isolation from their peers. But recently this segregated special schooling has been less favoured and more children with SEN are being educated alongside their peers in mainstream schooling causing a huge increase (41% in the 5 years to 2003, National Disability Act, 2005, cited in Drudy and Kinsella 2009), in the number of pupils with disabilities being educated in mainstream schools and a comparable decrease in the number of pupils in special schools.
The development of inclusive practices in Irish education over the last decade was influenced by the SERC Report 1993, advocating a continuum of education provision for children with SEN, favouring integration over segregation; and proposing basic principles to guide the future development of SEN provision, one of which was that appropriate education for all children with SEN should be provided in ordinary schools, unless individual circumstances made this impracticable.
The Education Act (1998) recognises the right of pupils with a disability or SEN to education which should be supported by the appropriate services. Two later acts, the Equal Status Act (2000-2004), and the Education Welfare Act (2000), both recommend inclusion in mainstream classes and full participation in school life. DES circular 24/03 also shows its commitment to inclusion as it recognises that pupils with SEN often learn at a different pace and in a different way to their peers and stresses that these pupils learn through interaction with peer groups and to mixed ability groups in a variety of situations. Even though the research on mixed ability teaching illustrates that children of lower ability benefit greatly and children of average or above ability are not academically disadvantaged (Hallam et al, 2004) the DES is aware that in recent years the practice has developed of using resource hours on a withdrawal basis for individual tuition only. But such exclusive reliance on withdrawal is contrary to principles of integration and inclusion. King (2006) proves this as she says that 87.5% of supplementary teaching is delivered on a withdrawal basis. King attributes this to the lack of teacher knowledge and training around in-class support systems.
The 2004 EPSEN Act, the statutory basis for the inclusion of children with SEN within the educational system, requires that children with SEN be educated alongside their peers in an inclusive environment unless it is ‘inconsistent with the best interests of the child’ (s.2, p.7). Here inclusive education is seen as a way of helping children with SEN to participate in society and to live independent and fulfilled lives as adults. It describes suitable assessment procedures for children with SEN and ensures the provision of appropriate interventions and services.
The DES provides a continuum of support for children with SEN in mainstream schooling ranging from classroom based to individualised support. Currently, in Ireland, the DES provides three main types of educational systems to meet these diverse needs. They are:
?? Mainstream classes where children with SEN are supported by resource teaching, special needs assistance and learning support;
?? Special classes in mainstream schools: currently 12% of mainstream schools have special classes. (NCCA, 2013a); and
?? Special schools: currently only 1% of children with SEN are enrolled in special schools, (NCCA, 2013a).
At the core of inclusion is the principle that children with SEN or disability belong in mainstream education. To be an inclusive school, the school must accommodate the needs of all children and welcome diversity to enrich learning for all in the school community. By providing the appropriate networks of support, children with SEN are enabled to participate fully in the life and work of the mainstream setting.
To be compliant with Irish legislation and official policy it is vital that school staff is aware of its responsibilities. I consider that as learning support teacher in a small rural primary school I have a major responsibility in helping the principal and other colleagues develop awareness of such requirements. Much of this awareness raising is done in an informal, collaborative way through regular discussion and updating of school policy and practice.
What is Inclusion and how best to achieve it (Question 2 above)
Within the present literature, definitions of inclusion differ by focussing on rights, values, community or on the capability of the school to cope with difference and diversity. The concept of inclusion replaced ‘integration’, which was used in the 1980s to refer to the placement of pupils with SEN in mainstream schools. (Winter and Raw, 2010).
The Guidelines for Inclusion: Ensuring Access to Education for All (UNESCO 2005, p 13) defines inclusion as: ‘a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion within and from education’. The Centre for Studies in Inclusive Education (CSIE, 2002) views inclusive education as all pupils, with and without disabilities or difficulties, learning together with the appropriate networks of support. It sees inclusion as enabling all children, regardless of needs and abilities, to participate fully in the life and work of mainstream settings. The British Psychological Society, (2002), highlights the school’s responsibility as it acknowledges the child’s right to participate fully in school life and the school’s duty to welcome and accept them. Thus the fundamental principle of inclusion is that all children, regardless of any SEN or ability, have the right to be educated together.
Farrell and Ainscow, (2002) added that inclusive education is now seen as a human right and challenges all those policies and practices that in the past excluded some children from their right to education. There is considerable debate about full acceptance of inclusion. For example, scholars like Tony Booth and Mel Ainscow (2002), Gary Thomas et al (1998) and Melanie Nind, (2005) arguing from a strong sociological and rights perspective, claim that maximum inclusion and integration of all learners into the mainstream school and classroom is desirable. Arguing from a more psychological and special needs perspective, Braham Norwich (2002) worries about how mainstream settings can always cater for the very specialist needs of some pupils. Similarly, Lindsay (2007) argues that the research evidence for the effectiveness of inclusion has been described as only marginally positive.
Other literature defines inclusion in terms of process rather than state. The 1994 UNESCO, Salamanca Statement which promotes inclusive education and views children with SEN as an integral part of education, follows the process theory, in that it is concerned with the identification and removal of barriers, as well as the participation and achievement of all children and especially those most at risk. In agreement, Stainback and Stainback (1990) and Ainscow (2005) emphasise the onus on the school to make the appropriate changes to accommodate the needs of children with SEN rather than expecting them to fit in to existing structures. Sebba and Sachdev support these ideals when they say inclusive education is a process involving changes in the way schools are organised, in the curriculum and in teaching strategies, to accommodate the range of needs and abilities among pupils. (Sebba and Sachdev, 1997, p.2).
If we agree that inclusive education is a whole school endeavour where the school culture, management, organisation, content and approaches to teaching and learning are developed and adapted to accommodate the educational needs of all children, significant changes must be made to the content, delivery and organisation of mainstream programmes- a great challenge for many schools. Griffin and Shevlin (2007, p. 81) recognise that a whole school endeavour towards inclusive policies and inclusive educational practices calls for a ‘radical restructuring of the educational system to enable all children to participate and achieve within mainstream settings’.
Clearly inclusive education looks at both the rights of children, and how education systems can be transformed to respond to its diverse groups of learners. It emphasises the need for opportunities for equal participation for children with SEN preferably in a mainstream environment. My understanding of inclusion from the literature that I have read is that the emphasis on it as a process rather than a state is extremely helpful as such a perspective means that inclusion is never truly won or reached in a school or setting ‘ rather it is something that is an ongoing feature of school life, an ongoing process of enabling all learners participate fully in their learning and a process of recognising the barriers that hinder such participation. Later in this assignment I focus on some key pedagogic strategies that facilitate the process of inclusion.
Pedagogic Practices for successful Inclusion: Differentiation and Formative Assessment (Question 3 above)
If inclusive education is based on processes, values, rights and principles, then the question is not if inclusion works, but rather how to make it work effectively. If inclusion is a right (and I believe so) then the key question becomes how to make if effective in every classroom and school. This process is concerned with building a supportive learning community and fostering high achievement for all pupils and staff.
From the literature reviewed, I draw the following implications for teachers in my school:
?? understand and acknowledge inclusion as a continuing and evolving process;
?? create differentiated learning environments responding to social, emotional, physical and cognitive development;
?? provide a broad, relevant, appropriate and stimulating curriculum and adapt it to meet the needs of children with SEN and reduce barriers to learning and participation;
?? welcome the participation of all school personnel and engage in appropriate training and professional development;
?? restructure cultures, policies and practices to respond to the diversity of needs resulting in transparent inclusive policies and practices within the school.
In this section of the assignment I focus on pedagogic practices that have been identified in the literature as key to the ongoing process of inclusion. Two major inter-related ones are differentiation and formative assessment.
Differentiation in the mainstream classroom may take many forms depending on the individual learning needs and experiences of the children. Often methods of teaching and learning may be differentiated by:
?? level and pace- all on a similar topic but at a different level and pace guided by previous achievements;
?? interest- focussing on children’s areas of interest to motivate and enhance learning experiences and opportunities;
?? access and response- children access and respond to the same curricular content but through a modified means;
?? structure- some children taking small steps while others are learning blocks of integrated curricular content;
?? sequence- some children experiencing different parts of subject content at different times throughout the year; and,
?? teaching style- using various approaches and different styles of teaching as well as different forms of response.
The DES (2007b) recognises that teaching all children together in the same classroom doesn’t give all children the same opportunities to learn. It recommends that to enhance opportunities to learn in an inclusive environment mainstream teachers should:
?? use a variety of teaching methodologies and approaches;
?? use multi-sensory approaches to teaching and learning;
?? explain, refer to and review objectives throughout lessons;
?? use formative assessment strategies (assessment for learning) to identify progress and use this evidence to inform teaching approaches;
?? match lesson content to the varied learning needs of the children and to their levels of achievement;
?? provide the necessary concrete materials, staying mindful of needs, ages, interests, and aptitudes;
?? utilise all learning opportunities even if they differ from the lesson objectives;
?? allow extra time is for practice, reinforcement, and application of new knowledge and skills;
?? praise all achievement regardless of size, level or complexity;
?? constanltly promote opportunities for language development and communication skills (e.g. listening, speaking, reading, writing);
?? constantly provide opportunities to develop personal and social skills;
?? use homework to consolidate and extend, to promote independent learning; and
?? monitor individual and class progress, and constantly evaluate and review the effectiveness of teaching and learning (modified form DES 2007b).
Research from the RA4AL (2012) found evidence that pedagogical approaches to benefit all learners might include team teaching, and peer assisted learning ‘ both strategies have potential for differentiation and formative assessment. Ainscow (1999) believes that successful inclusion implies adapting the curriculum, teaching methods, materials and procedures and being responsive to the learning needs of the children with SEN ‘ this is essentially what differentiation is and what formative assessment affords. Rix et al (2006 and 2009) found in their research that the most common teaching approach used was the adaptation of instruction, followed by peer-group interaction and the adaptation of materials.
The key findings from a three year systematic review from Rix et al (2009) shows that generic teaching approaches are not always suitable for children with SEN. This research showed the effectiveness of peer interactive approaches adopted by teachers such as co-operative learning (particularly in relation to the curriculum area of literacy), encompassing elements of social grouping/teamwork, revising and adapting the curriculum and working with a co-operative learning school ethos. Peer-group interactive approaches were effective in academic terms and were often effective in terms of social participation and children’s attitudes to their learning and their views of their own competence, acceptance and self worth. Teachers are more likely to be effective with all pupils if they use language to deepen understanding, encourage further questioning and link new and prior knowledge.
Positive teacher attitudes to inclusion of children with SEN increase the quality of their interaction with the children. Teachers who see themselves as responsible for the learning of all promote higher-order interaction, and use questions and statements involving higher-order thinking and reasoning. These teachers allow the children problem-solve, discuss and describe, as well as allowing extra time to make connections with their own prior experiences and understandings. These strategies verify the importance of differentiation and formative assessment ‘ they position the learner as having intentions, having points of view and thoughts about their own learning which are relevant to the curriculum and the pedagogic interactions in the classroom. Such approaches allows the child influence their own learning and gives them control over what and how they learn- themes that are hugely empowering for all learners especially those who may struggle to participate and find meaning in what is on offer to them in the day to day lessons in the classroom.
Differentiation and Formative Assessment as vehicles for inclusion
If all children are to learn together successfully class teachers must make provision and allowances for the varied learning styles and needs of the children. Effective use of differentiation and assessment supports this. The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA, 2007, p. 8) defines differentiation as the ‘process of varying content, activities, teaching, learning, methods and resources to take into account the range of interests, needs and experiences of individual student’. Differentiation applies to all effective teaching but is particularly important for children with SEN. Within any group there will be a wide range of ability and experience. Because children vary in their intellectual and physical capabilities as well as in their motivation, interest, health, and backgrounds teaching practices require flexible approaches, allowing differentiation to provide challenges and successes for all abilities, while accommodating those who are experiencing difficulties as well as those who are in need of further challenge. Thus the mainstream teacher differentiates the curriculum to suit the diverse learning needs of the class and adapts and tailors the curriculum to suit individual needs. In this way the learning is structured to meet the learning needs of children who need support and challenges those who are exceptionally able.
In planning for differentiation and formative assessment teachers are guided by three key factors:
?? what the child knows and can do;
?? what the child needs to know and needs to do; and,
?? how the child can use assessment feedback to bridge the gap between the above two aspects (this is a definition of formative assessment or assessment for learning)
The formulation of an Individual Education Plan (IEP) is an effective way of supporting differentiation on the one hand and using formative assessment on the other. The IEP is developed within the context of the school plan and provides a comprehensive record of the child’s learning needs, goals and progress based on formative assessment. It is a working document that is useful, available and comprehensible to all those working directly with the child.
Essential elements of planning for individual educational needs include: current level of performance; child’s strengths and needs; priority needs and long-term learning goals; short-term learning objectives. Implementation of the IEP maximises access to a broad and balanced curriculum while still catering for the priority need. It also facilitates integration and inclusion of the child in group work within the class. In my school there is a well established practice of IEP formulation and review by teachers and this is led by the learning the support teacher (myself). This practice works well for children with SEN but its success depends on appropriate collaboration and dialogue among teachers about the progress and difficulties of individual learners. Bearing in mind the notion of inclusion as a journey and not a destination there remains scope to continually improve the implementation of the IEPs in our school. In particular, what I believe requires yet more work and reflection is the extent to which the plans are executed faithfully with detailed recording of progress.
Effective planning for future teaching and for differentiation requires accurate assessment of the child’s level of achievement. Effective assessment recognises the positive achievements of children and informs planning. When used as a part of the teaching and learning process, assessment not only allows teachers to make decisions about differentiation but acknowledges potential, progress and achievement.
Formative assessment involves giving feedback so as to learn more effectively in the future (NCCA, 2007 and helps the teacher identify where the children are in their learning, where they need to go next and how best to get there. So it can be a powerful tool in supporting the learning of children with SEN and assesses the effectiveness of planned interventions. Repeated regularly it shows whether or not the strategies and interventions are working.
Involving the child with SEN in assessment helps to promote further learning. Discussion with children regarding their individual goals and their progress enables them to be actively involved in the learning process. The Primary National Strategy (2010) claims that when the children with SEN are involved in assessment they show improvements in aspects such as task application, willingness to participate in lessons and self esteem; communication skills; pupil-teacher relationships as well as reduced dependency and behaviour problems. Listening to their responses helps to identify the barriers to learning, learning strengths, gaps in learning, what is valued as valid and important learning and the targets that they want to achieve and set for themselves.
Daily informal assessment suitable for SEN children could comprise of asking questions and sharing comments; observing their engagement and participation as they work; having discussions and conversations with them, analysing their work and engaging the child to self reflect on the assessment process. Other methods of assessment, recommended by the NCCA (2007), suitable for children with SEN include:
?? Teacher observation;
?? Teacher-designed tasks and tests;
?? Peer-assessment; and
?? Diagnostic testing.
Primary National Strategy (2010) also recommends the use of mixed ability grouping to optimise opportunities for children with SEN to express themselves and learn through listening and observing. Teachers might also consider random grouping or by friendship and personal interest allowing children to form different relationships or build on different strengths or shared goals. Paired work helps develop a shared ownership of learning and provides increased opportunities to take risks and is also suitable for think/pair/share, snowballing and brainstorming activities. The point here in relation to differentiation and assessment is that the teacher needs to consider not just the content and skills to be taught, learned and assessed but needs to think about the emotional, social personal and inter-personal dimension of what is being learned and how it is being learned. This is key for all learners and is often a dimension that is marginalised for children with special educational needs as teachers sometimes draw to heavily on drill methods and deny the importance of the more holistic, applied and relational aspects of learning, that above all learners need to experience their learning as meaningful to them in the here and now of their lives.
Barriers to Effective Pedagogic Inclusion Practices for in-class support (Question 4)
While the inclusion debate has gathered momentum and there has been great progress regarding inclusion of children with SEN in mainstream schooling in a short space of time this has resulted in major changes in the roles and responsibilities of teachers and the adaptation of approaches to the curriculum and assessment. Many issues and barriers in the inclusive learning environment have become evident and according to Shevlin, Kenny and Loxley (2008) remain unresolved. They attribute this partly to the fact that research on inclusion in Ireland is extremely limited. Changes include the development of new understandings of the interactive nature of children’s needs and the focus in teaching has moved from asking what is wrong with the child to what the child needs to support learning ‘ as befits a rights based perspective as outlined already in this assignment. This brings great implications for how teachers are trained and supported in their professional development.
Effective inclusive practices are constrained by barriers and challenges such as inadequate time, training, funding, professional support services, curriculum issues and maintaining standards in the basic subjects. Shevlin et al, (cited in NCSE 2009) identified inadequacies in training at under-graduate, post-graduate and in-service training as the most cited constraints causing the later lack of progress in the implementation of IEPs. At whole school level, time constraints impeded administration, paperwork and correction of homework, developing policy, staff liaison and collaboration, collaborative planning, liaising with parents and the development of the IEPs as well as development of inclusive practices through training days, staff meetings and in-service. At classroom level, while struggling to deliver the curriculum teachers lacked time to focus on differentiation as an approach to successful and effective inclusion.
In inclusion of SEN children in mainstream schooling teachers play a central role in promoting participation and reducing underachievement. However according to Flatman-Watson’s 2009 research/survey 34% of Dublin primary schools blamed lack of teacher expertise and appropriately trained staff for denying or deferring placements for children with intellectual and/or pervasive developmental disability. Ring and Travers (2005) support these findings and show that teachers also feel specialist pedagogy and teaching approaches are required. Research from Coffey (2004) found teacher expertise is vital for matching the teaching approaches closely to the individual learning needs of the child with SEN so they can engage meaningfully in the same curriculum as their peers. Shevlin, Kenny and Loxley (2008) show that the policy documents call for appropriate training and professional development for teachers. Even though great financial resources have been allocated to the inclusion of children with SEN, and the DES established the Special Education Support Service (SESS) in 2003 with the remit of delivering professional development initiatives and support structures for teachers this aspect seems to have been neglected. Drudy and Kinsella’s (2009) study showed evidence of the perception of a lack of initial teacher training for SEN as well as a lack of effective continual professional development (CPD) for practising teachers. This confirms the NCSE (2009) report that acknowledges that teachers are more resistant to adopting inclusive practices when they experience a lack of confidence in personal instruction, skills and availability of resources and inadequate professional development. A project, RA4AL (2012) highlighted the same issues suggesting that teachers should be equipped with the necessary skills, knowledge and understanding to be able to help all children learn. Gash (2006) reports positively that the introduction of differentiated learning and curriculum management and delivery are likely to benefit the skills of new teachers. Shevlin, Kenny and Loxley (2008) see no substitute for well-informed teachers and a knowledgeable school and view this oversight as contributing to the negative attitudes among teachers to inclusion and perhaps to the school’s unwillingness to enrol children with SEN.
Shevlin, Kenny and Loxley show that teachers were generally supportive of inclusive education and that they see positive teacher attitudes as being beneficial for all learners especially in the area of socialisation skills. Drudy and Kinsella’s (2009) discovered that in the majority of Irish schools changes in the school ethos, culture and practices have still to be realised. They also identified other barriers such as: the physical limitations of school buildings and classrooms, the attitudes of all personnel within and associated with the school and the lack of opportunities for collaborative problem solving in relation to effective inclusion of children with SEN. Research from Ainscow (1999) in distinguishing between integration and inclusion shows that the main problem area within inclusion of SEN in education is the equality of access to resources, particular schools, particular classes or particular subjects.
Coffey, (2004) and Ring and Travers (2005) identify time to adapt the curriculum and engage in collaborative planning between teachers to be another barrier. Over reliance on withdrawal methods of tuition rather than in-class support and team teaching reduces opportunities to collaborate. Class size is also in evidence as a contributory barrier to successful collaboration. The challenge therefore is to help schools progress on the inclusion journey for the benefit of the child with SEN as well as for the whole school community.
Conclusion and Final Reflection on Own School Context
A number of messages emerge from my reading of the relevant literature all of which point to the need to carefully consider themes of pedagogy and assessment:
1. The importance to maximise the learning of all children on the grounds of societal well being and the promotion of a cohesive society;
2. The importance to maximise the learning of all children on the grounds that individuals have rights to education on an equal basis to their peers.
3. Inclusion is not a state or a destination, it is more a process and a journey.
The third point above has major implications for practice in my school. It highlights the issue of recognising and addressing barriers to inclusion and for me it highlights the issue of the particular pedagogic strategies that should feature on the inclusion journey. Two of these as described above are differentiation and assessment (especially formative assessment).
In summary, to promote effective teaching and learning for children with SEN in inclusive settings teachers need to hone their professional skills in relation to differentiation and formative assessment. Fundamental to this is the need to:
?? recognise their responsibility for all abilities in their class;
?? recognise social interaction as an effective approach to learning;
?? plan to scaffold both cognitive and social learning and content;
?? carefully plan group work with clearly defined roles;
?? explore children’s understanding, encourage questioning and make constant links between new and prior knowledge;
?? work on (basic) skills in a holistic way, embedded in classroom activity and subject knowledge;
?? utilise pupils as resources for learning e.g. peer group assessment, self assessment, target setting together for IEPs;
?? use activities which the learner finds meaningful;
?? use a range of different modalities, visual, auditory, verbal and kinaesthetic, practical and ‘hands-on’ approaches (modified from the NCSE 2009).
One of the more recent positive policy initiatives is the extension of the period of training at initial teacher education stage so that now trainee teachers have more time to engage with the challenges and issues associated with inclusion practices. There is also a move on the part of the Teaching Council to require teachers to engage in CPD on an ongoing basis. Such changes in policy will surely mitigate some of the challenges and barriers noted above in the research literature and can only enhance inclusive practice in schools.
With more particular reference to my own school currently and bearing in mind the literature just discussed, especially the evidence of the need for greater CPD and challenging of professional mindsets in relation to in-class inclusion, there are a number of implications and recommendations worth emphasising. Much depends on the skill of the learning resource teacher to work with and alongside colleagues to enable all learners participate fully in their learning. By working alongside other teachers to support differentiation and to lead and support formative assessment of individual learners and groups of learners, teamwork and shared responsibility for all learners can be gradually become part of the taken for granted culture of the school. By demonstrating and enacting differentiation practices in the public arena of the classroom practitioners can learn to share their own practices and ‘deprivatize’ their own practices thus putting practice on the table for discussion and review in a secure and collaborative climate of professional dialogue and sharing. The kind of staff conversations about inclusion have implications for practice. Thinking can be challenged and shared through professional conversations and by such conversations and reflection a new language for inclusion can be evolved and made common place. From new thinking stems new practices and evaluation of practices. Full participation of learners in their learning is also related to full participation of teachers in their learning ‘ both go hand in hand in enabling an inclusive culture at any school level.