Attentive action: Focus on inclusive education

Attention is often something that we all struggle with maintaining at some point during the day but it is something the majority of us can do successfully. One of the things that often comes across when assessing the learning needs of a child is their ability to focus and attend to the task or instruction at hand. I often here quotes from teachers and professionals about a child’s inability to focus and the impact this has on his/her ability to make progress but if the inclusive educator gave it more thought, one of the biggest things that affects attention and focus is motivation. For example, the pre-schooler with Autism being more motivated by his own agenda than the one set by educator or the primary school child with ADHD is more motivated by the reaction from his peers than the learning content because he finds greater success in making them laugh than completing the learning task set.

Why focus on inclusive education?

The reason I have chosen to focus on inclusive education is to make sure that strong consideration is given for the impact of considering the individual within the context he or she finds himself in. Some parts of the world are much more inclusive than others. I am fortunate to live in a society that is much more accepting of individual differences but even within this, injustice takes place on a daily basis. A child or young person with disability/additional needs is the anomaly and he/she has to find away to “fit in” whether this is a conscious and understood thought by the child or not.

The child or young person cannot change the fact that he or she is different but we can always change the way we approach things to help that child make progress and society to understand that not everyone is born the same but there is a place for that person to feel welcome or have a sense of achievement and belonging.

What areas of inclusive education need to be focused on the most?

From birth, the dream of a parent is for their child to be as independent as possible when they reach adulthood and from the very beginning, all the skills they learn are in preparation for this. For the child (having been one myself), it’s that their differences are accepted and they are not discriminated (positively or negatively) as a result of this. One of the areas that could make a real difference for the children is how teaching assistants are used within the classroom. In many countries across the world, teaching assistants are used to facilitate the learning of the child but depending on the level and frequency of interactions they have with the child, there is research to show that this could have an adverse on their learning. I suppose that part of the reason this blog exists is to help decided what areas of inclusive education do truly need to be discussed and debated the most across the world. I often debate with my colleagues whether it is practice or policy that has the greatest influence on a positive learning experience for a child or young person. I have never reached a conclusion to this but would love to hear all views on this.

Photo by Pragyan Bezbaruah from Pexels

What’s the best way to switch this focus?

There is not enough of a focus on inclusive education in my opinion. I think a large reason for this is because it is not always well understood. The best way to switch the focus to making education more inclusive is to simply keep discussing it. Discussions influence research and research influences policy and/or practice. What more do you think could be done to drive the inclusive education agenda?

Coronavirus: the impact on children with emotional and mental health needs

The Institute of Education at University College London has helpfully provided learning resources to support home-schooling for children with social, emotional and mental health needs. A quick browse prompted me to think about what is the best thing a child or young person with additional needs can take from this situation. For children with social, emotional and mental health needs, this experience must bring up a range of questions for the parents/carers who have to teach their child why this has happened and how this affects them as well as try to get them to do some Maths & English.

It’s quite a challenge for the inclusive educator in these circumstances. Whilst progress against the curriculum is important for a child’s academic progress, what’s more important is that the children understand why this is happening and what they can do to support the situation. There’s always a learning opportunity in every situation.

I spoke to a parent of a child with quite severe ADHD earlier this week. I asked her how she was coping home-schooling her child. She replied, “The questions don’t stop, he’s more worried about everyone dying than doing the work”. I advised her that it’s more important for the child’s emotional state to be calmed before engaging in any learning activity. I’m a big fan of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (visual representation below). If you look at Maslow’s (1943) theory , feeling safe and secure is absolutely essential to human motivation for anything and I think it’s important that this is applied to the context of home schooling in the midst of a global pandemic. There is no doubt in my mind that this parent isn’t the only person in this situation right now.

A few days ago, I read a blog post from GEM Report about the impact of school closures and the prospect of this being extended to the summer holidays. Typically, the summer closure of schools is welcomed by most as a rest for children who have spent the entire year absorbing new information in a highly structured learning environment but this year might be different. I think our first priority should always be health & wellbeing but if the school closures are extended to the summer holidays, then that is a considerable length of time away from a structured learning environment.

What do you think could be done to support children in reintegrating back into school? Particularly for those with emotional and mental health needs? Does anyone have any other thoughts they’d like to contribute?

The link to the resources provided by UCL can be found here:

https://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/departments-and-centres/centres/centre-inclusive-education/homeschooling-children-send/social-emotional-and-mental-health-young-people