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FOCUS: How do we make schools more inclusive?

FOCUS: How do we make schools more inclusive?

Wednesday 15 December 2021

FOCUS: How do we make schools more inclusive?

Wednesday 15 December 2021


Appointing a ‘Minister for Inclusion’, creating a more "flexible" curriculum and reconsidering merit-based school selection are among the 50 ways a new report says Jersey’s education system could better accommodate vulnerable, low-income, and special needs children.

'Inclusion' in schools is seen as a way in which equalise all opportunities for children from all different backgrounds and of all levels of learning abilities, though the review notes no clear definition has been given by the Government.

Newly published by the National Association for Special Educational Needs (Nasen), it states that, whilst there is evidence of “exemplary” practice in certain sectors of the island's education, it is not happening consistently across the board.

This was put down to a variety of factors, including the prioritisation given to realising inclusion, the allocation of resources, and the underpinning policies and processes.

It recommends a 'roadmap' be devised, comprising of a short-term action plan across two years, a medium term plan spanning three to five years, and an overall 10-year vision for inclusion, taking into account their recommendations.

Express examines some of the key issues flagged by the Association and its recommendations for improvement...

Definitions and practices

While the report says there are some "promising" practices in Jersey children's settings, it notes that there is no clear definition of what "inclusion" should look like.

This, the review says, is evident in the fact that some teachers and teaching assistants felt that an inclusive education was still possible if "some learners are segregated on account of their behaviour, learner characteristics or culture" - these most often being children with social, emotional or mental health needs.

Inclusion

Pictured: The report recommends the Government deliver a definition of inclusion.

Other teachers too are shown to "frequently [take 'inclusion'] as referring solely to those with Special Educational Needs", and not other marginalised children.

Remarking on this overall lack of a definition, the report quotes a teacher who traced the source of this confusion back to Government.

They said their school "strongly promotes inclusivity across all our pupils", but added: "I do not think the GoJ has a firm grasp of what inclusivity in schools really means. I think they pay it lip-service so they can be seen to be doing the right thing, without actually having to do the right thing."

Whilst many head teachers are said to have "characteristics of inclusive leadership", the report points out that, across schools, there is only a "patchwork" understanding of inclusion, illustrated by another head who stated "'there are nearly 50 schools in Jersey and you will get a different definition of what's meant by inclusion from each of them."

The report's first recommendation is that the Government should clearly define inclusive education in a way that is accessible and understandable to all residents of Jersey, and articulated to them publicly.

When asked by Express what the Government's current definition of inclusivity was, Education Minister Deputy Scott Wickenden said that it would come with the introduction of an 'Inclusion Charter' - another of the report's recommendations. 

However, giving his own definition, he said: "Inclusion is about making sure nobody’s left out in the cold, which is if you have somebody who aspires to do something within an education portfolio or learn something, that they have the ability no matter what their means are or what their background is to do it, and that’s across all life learning.

"So inclusivity is making sure that there is at least the opportunity for anyone to be involved in education or improving their lot in life, through whatever means they choose to."

Law

One of the other key points was that legally there is "little visible emphasis" on educating all children and young people, noting that only children "with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) are mentioned by name in Jersey Law."

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Pictured: The report suggests the Education Law make "explicit reference" to inclusion.

It also notes there is currently no regard to the consent of children to attend a special school in law, and no provision to support children who speak English as another language.

It also noted that children have no legal right to appeal being excluded from school currently.

Referring to this, the review recommended that the Education Law be reviewed to incorporate "explicit reference" to the Government's commitment to educational and social inclusion, legislation on discrimination should be revisited to fit in more with UN conventions.

Outside of the legal sphere, the report noted that Government's current Inclusion Policy is a three-page document dating back to 2016, which doesn't have clear targets.

The review recommended that the Government refresh its Education and Health and Social Care policies to be in line with its aims for inclusion.

Curriculum

The report also observed that children who struggle "to cope with the demands of a mainstream curriculum" are often left unidentified - for these children struggling with 'disaffection', currently policy guidelines also give "little detail" on how they should be managed.

To address this, Nasen recommends "designing an alternative, flexible curriculum offer, with associated assessment approaches which better meet [their] needs."

Looking at the way in which marginalised children move between year groups and settings, it said there is "little transparency."

Bullying

Reviewers considered experiences related by parents as part of their review. One flagged concerns about how bullying was managed.

"There were no transition arrangements, no support in the playground, no buddy system or mentor. He was bullied and for two days, he did not eat or go to the toilet at school. At half-term when things still hadn't improved, they moved my son and not the bully," they said.

Charities

Furthermore, Nasen suggested that the Government reviews the role of charities in inclusive education, with a new method of funding implemented.

It also recommended reconsidering the age range for accessing education, saying it should "extend from 0-25 years, with transition from child to adult being part of a Jersey-wide plan for lifelong learning and support."

Funding

Education funding has been a hot topic in recent months, with Haute Vallee's Governors laying bare a £23m schools deficit in October and explaining that it was damaging opportunities for vulnerable children.

However, Nasen said that "funding is not the starting point" and that "a collective will and a positive attitude" was. "If there is buy-in to the principle that inclusive education benefits everyone, the money will follow," they added.

However, the reviewers did later point to "evidence that education funding is not being used to the benefit" of all children in Jersey and that a review of data had shown "that there is not best value for money in relation to inclusion, and most likely not enough money."

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Pictured: The review states we should put collective will and understanding of individual children's issues before funding as a starting point.

They said that the Government was not adequately tracking how their funding benefited children. They said there was little data beyond simply tracking academic attainment at primary school and GCSE performance.

"We cannot see that funding and outcomes data are linked in the way they should be, strategically. Despite capable finance and data teams, there appears to be no strategic overarching vision to define pupil outcomes in relation to spend," Nasen said.

"If there was, there would be more access to relevant data. Getting this right will be an important step: if not, the cost to Jersey's exchequer of not including will become unmanageable."

It said that decisions about how to split funding shouldn't be based around groups deemed to be 'high performers' and those assumed to be 'behind'. 

Nasen said the Government should redevelop its funding model, ensuring it includes a new 'funding review forum' for headteachers, and gives more autonomy to headteachers to choose how their budget is spent.

Private education and selective admissions

On the topic of divide, the review hones in on the topic of non-fee paying and fee-paying schools, and the selective basis of fee-paying schools.

"The present school structure is... one which does not address inequalities in access; in consequence, it is a barrier to greater inclusivity," it reads.

It adds: "In Jersey, increased competition between non-fee-paying schools to enroll [children and young people] with high levels of attainment can lead to more pronounced disparities between schools. Over time, the notion of a 'good school', based primarily on parental aspirations for the academic achievement of their child, becomes embedded, at the expense of inclusion."

It sums this up with a quote from a 'senior leader', who stated: "The right to choose is held up as really important especially by those who can afford to pay for this choice. However, choice is meaningless for families who can't or don't have a choice."

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Pictured: An illustration of the proposed path to inclusivity the review posits.

It recommends that Jersey as a whole should be invited to express their preference regarding school selection at 14+ and the future structure of secondary schooling funded by the Government.

Indeed, it was critial of using 14+ as a merit-based selection point as a whole, noting how it is "supported by [Government] courtesy of its administration of [Hautlieu]" and addicting it was "unclear" what the evidence was for choosing 14 years as the age set for this policy.

Off-site facilities and La Sente

The report recommends all provisions outside the regular school system for vulnerable children and those with special behavioural needs be reviewed to create greater flexibility for children moving between mainstream and alternative education.

It described La Sente's facilities as "inappropriately sited" due to being next to Greenfields and at the entrance of a car park.

The facilities inside were also found to be falling short, not at the "high level of facilities seen in many mainstream settings."

The finding echoed previous concerns raised to Express by the guardian of a child who had gone to La Sente school for children with Social, Emotional and Mental Health needs and the Children's Commisioner.

However, it does "recognise that discussion is taking place" around the site, though does not give further details.

Identifying need

The review points out in regards to children with special needs, that the criteria for creating a Record of Need (which outlines a pupil's special educational need) requires "clarification and greater transparency", as "there is substantial ground-level opinion that targeted intervention... lacks a standardised approach."

"We end up waiting an age, just to be told that the child does not qualify because a certain number of boxes haven't been ticked. It is very disheartening to be part of this, especially as the parents are depending on us to take it forward," one teacher is quoted as saying.

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Pictured: Recommendation was given for a short-term fund to be created to help bring down the backlog of assessments.

Beyond Records of Needs too, it expresses how Jersey should establish a procedure for identifying children from a pre-school age who may face barriers in their learning.

Looking at the overall assessment system and its waiting times, it concludes that the "current system for assessment and referral is not working as effectively as it could. Waiting lists are often longer than it is reasonable to expect, and resources are insufficient."

On this front, it recommends a short-term fund be created to bring down this backlog of assessments, as well as an earlier recommendation to further clarify 'Record of Need' specifications.

Resourcing

Indeed, the review points out that in "most of the schools and settings [it] visited, the main focus of conversation concerned the way that inclusive education was currently being funded and therefore resourced," observing how it's felt by those working that the diversity of Jersey's schools currently isn't recognised by the way resources are allocated.

Despite this, they say "practitioners have a positive regard for the support provided by CYPES in assisting the work of schools and settings to be places where [children] felt they belonged, both academically and socially. Doubts were hardly ever hardly expressed about the commitment of GoJ officers."

Instead, the review looks to a "prior absence of joined-up services to support inclusion" as the main cause of contention, quoting observations from staff that the Children, Young People, Education and Skills department seems to be broken down into "silos." 

The review speculates this perception may be to do with the "relatively recent establishment of CYPES," the creation of which the report praises.

It recommends going forward that the lessons learned from the Jersey Premium, which is a scheme whereby schools are given an extra amount of money for each pupil who may need more support.

It says this should stretch into inclusive education policy and practice such as mental health, wellbeing and EAL.

In regards to staffing, several recommendations are made around training, namely that:

  • Practitioners should be trained in understanding diversity in all school settings.
  • An audit of external expertise in Education Health and Social Care should be undertaken regularly.
  • All special educational needs co-ordinators should be part of school senior leadership teams and have dedicated time to work in this capacity - in larger schools they should only be used in a direct teaching role in the short-term and when there are no alternatives.

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Posted by Scott Mills on
Don't panic....Deputy Wickedend will sort this out by end of Summer Term.
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