The Power of Education

“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world”.

Nelson Mandela

My parents understood the value of education and always pushed me to learn more in order to be in a more informed position. You can never have too much knowledge and knowledge is power. I have never seen it as a ‘weapon’ but I do understand what he meant by that. Education is there for each person to use as they wish and the knowledge learnt can be used to appropriately challenge perspectives or bring fresh ideas to the table. For example, I am using my education to appropriately challenge discrimination and injustice in education systems. Mandela used his education to free a nation. What a hero!

Education taught me more than what was provided in the syllabus, it taught me how to respect people, respect myself and understand my own strengths and weaknesses. If we think about the power of education, it means different things to different people. For one person, education is a means of liberation so they are able to understand and challenge injustices that they may face. For another person, education is a means of social mobility within a capitalist society that values high academic attainment.

I have never been the most astute learner and thinking back at my experience with the knowledge I have now, there are plenty of areas that I think have not changed which probably did affect my experience. I hold nothing against my teachers as I do think the problems are systemic. For example, have you ever thought about why secondary schools are so much bigger than primary schools? You don’t need to have special educational needs or a disability to struggle with a transition as big as primary to secondary school but it certainly makes it worse. The ‘survival of the fittest’ culture surrounding the secondary transition is concerning for all pupils. I relied on the sympathy of a popular Year 11 pupil and the SEN office with adults onsite to get me through my first year. How much does the education system prepare children & young people for transitions?

All I want is more equality in education to remove the barriers at an early stage that society puts on disadvantaged learners. If education is a powerful weapon like Mandela says, then not all learners are adequately equipped to change the world. All voices should matter in a just world which is what I believe we all want but it’s funny how education should be for all but the cost is too high in specific areas of the developing world or the quality and access to education is negatively affected by what disability or learning need the learner may have.

For a second, think about your first and last day of primary school and secondary school? Did you feel that it equipped you to change the world?

If not, what do you think it did not teach you that you may have wanted to learn?

Photo by Gregory Fullard on Unsplash

It’s a tricky one: school closures & pupil attainment

It’s a tricky one. I have a niece who has just found out that her exams are going to be cancelled. I have seen her work so incredibly hard for the last 5 or 6 years attending gifted after school classes, taking on extra responsibilities to boost her experience in preparation for her university application, frustrated when she falls short of the high expectation, she sets for herself. Whilst being female works in her favour, the fact that she is from mixed Black Caribbean heritage and lower socioeconomic status does not. She knows what is at stake. Education brings prospects, prospect improves outlook. Education is so closely linked to social mobility in our society and she is smart. She is ceasing the opportunity to do well. What stands in her way now? School closures and teacher-based assessments. 

I remember being her age and feeling the pressure to succeed. The only thing that matters is that you get the grades you want to get to where you want to get to. The subject content is important but the destination university is everything. 

The school closures are a barrier to education for all. Teachers have a right to protect themselves given the dangers they may expose themselves and their families too but my issue is with the education system and regulatory bodies that clearly demonstrated systemic bias last year. We know that the algorithm is off the table (thank God) but I still have some issues with teacher assessment. 

Teacher assessment bias is a real and relevant issue, whether conscious or not. Have you ever heard of ‘stereotyping’? Most schools make conscious efforts to educate around equality and diversity issues and you will find that they will have policies to “prove” this but Campbell (2005) found that teacher-based assessments and judgements of primary pupils were systemically biased. Stereotypes according to income-class, special educational needs, ethnicity and gender all played a part in some of these bias. Whilst the research is within a primary context, the principles of the centralised UK education system are similar and the points raised are therefore relevant. Burgess & Greaves (2009) also provides supporting evidence for this argument where some ethnic groups were systemically under assessed when comparing teacher led assessments and external examinations. 

Take race out of it, you still have the socio-econominc and gender factors that affect this process (see: Ready and Wright, 2011)

Sandra Johnson (2005) concludes that consensus moderation is key in ensuring inequalities are reduced. I tend to agree with her but I’d probably go one step further and ensure that the process by which consensus moderation is formed is an inclusive one. The representation of teachers and leaders from a range of backgrounds, schools, regions and ethnicities should be considered. It’s too late (for now) to amend the national curriculum but the Government and Ofqual have a duty to ensure that they consider the factors listed above and the only way to do that is to include greater representation in the decision-making process. 

There is a fantastic article about this on The Teacherist Website, which is worth a read if you have time. 

Teacher assessments are not the only issue with school closures. My heart goes out to all the parents who are supporting their children with their education during these tough times. It is certainly not easy; but for every parent that is able to give their child a helpful hand, there is a parent who is not in a position to do this. I’m not just talking about Google Classroom or Zoom lessons which schools and the government have caught up with (not to mention laptop handouts for the disadvantaged). I’m talking about motivating children for learning. It’s a fundamental determining factor between those that do well and those that don’t. Children who are motivated to learn engage better with the curriculum which has positive implications for their attainment progress. In the words of Linnenbrink & Pintrich (2002), motivation is an “enabler for academic success”. We know some groups find it more difficult to motivate themselves for learning, particularly boys and if they are from White working-class (Mongon & Chapman, 2008; Demie & Lewis, 2014) or Black Carribean (Mclean & Demie, 2017Allen, 2009) backgrounds. Motivation is not the only thing that matters. There are some fundamental practicalities that are involved in the education of those with special educational needs and disability such as individualised adult curriculum support or adapted resources, which parents may not have the time resource to give whilst making sure they are able to work from home or go to work. The current answer is that schools are open but not every child with special educational needs and/or disability has an Education, Health & Care Plan or can go to school because they are shielding. Internet access is necessary to access online learning but not everybody has a home broadband connection. A desk at home to work off (see photo) is a luxury to some and is not found in every household, and if it is, it’s probably shared with other users for other purposes. It does show how fragile the system really is and the resourcing necessary to actually make it work for all irrespective of their differences.

Teacher based assessment is probably the best out of a bad situation, as the alternative would be to set children up to take exams that they are not prepared for. School closures are necessary to safeguard society and protect the NHS and loved ones we care about but once the dust settles, surely this conversation must continue? It will be interesting to see what the government’s detailed position is and how they will support teachers and school leaders to ensure that it does not result in children being further disadvantaged. 

To my niece, I know she will rise above this. Life is a series of doors and opportunities to level up. One summer should not ruin it all and I have every confidence in her ability to succeed regardless of any obstacles that the education system unintentionally puts in her way. 

To the teachers, I salute you. It’s not easy at the moment. I would challenge you to consider making representations to your union or school leaders on any proposals set out by the government and Ofqual. Let’s do right by the students who have worked tirelessly to improve their outcomes.

To parents, I salute you too. I do not have kids of my own but I speak to you all the time and empathise with the battle you are facing in juggling your employment and parent responsibilities. If you need a word of advice or a chat, drop me a message.

To anybody else reading this, just food for thought as always.

Until next time…

Photo by Sven Brandsma on Unsplash

Education: the ultimate tool

For a second, let’s think of education as “tool”. A useful tool that can be used to shape society for years to come. If you had the power to decide what the tool could be used for, what would it be?

Is it more important for education to develop a nation’s economy or society?

There is a heavy focus on educational attainment where students and teachers alike feel pressured to perform well. Whilst there is nothing wrong in celebrating individual success or excellence in curriculum areas, should it be at the expense of those who might not be performing as well? I’m conflicted as of course I want everyone to do well but the philosophy that you need to get good grades to do well at school makes two contradictory assumptions

1. Everyone is capable of meeting the curriculum expectations and will make progress towards this
or
2. Not everyone is capable of meeting the curriculum expectations and will fall behind

I believe that point 1 is the ethos which underpins most national curriculums but how realistic is this when the population is so diverse and not everyone is capable of achieving the current curriculum expectations as it stands.

If your success at school is attributed to what grade you get then have we missed the point of education? I suppose the marketisation of schools within the UK education system and the competition it breeds in students supports the economic outlook of the country, as it rewards those who do well by offering them more lucrative job opportunities but if we think about the societal impact, it’s catastrophic. Do I want my children to grow up in an education system that values capitalist competitiveness over fundamental societal values of inclusion?

There’s a balance to be struck here and I am not sure we’ve got it right just yet.

If I had the power, I’d probably think about this more.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

All children want to be accepted

We live in a world where children with disabilities are discriminated across the globe. The shear nature of our society is based on trying to improve things and never settling for individual differences that make us unique.

In my line of work, I find that more time is spent finding a “better” place for a child to be educated than trying to make the existing school placement more accessible. It is much easier to say that this child does not belong than to be challenged by individual differences. Surely, this goes against the ethos of inclusion which is about acceptance. The most important and crucial fear factor that children or young people with disabilities have is how far they will be accepted by their societies and the people they interact with on a daily basis.

We make the assumption that it is only the people that care about them who have a responsibility to include but the reality is that we all do. Society has a lot to do with the way we shape our perception of disability.

I learnt this week that the history and foundations of special education is based on segregation rather than inclusion. Look it up if you don’t believe me.

It’s too late to change our collective history now. The truth is that people with disabilities are at a disadvantage, but there are things that we can do to stop the segregation and exclusion from getting worse.

What actions do you take which support the inclusion of individuals with unique characteristics and differences?

Including them once doesn’t go far enough. How do you help others to understand and embrace individual difference?

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Pexels.com

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?

Grateful: happy to serve

The job of an inclusive educator is often quite thankless. The parents are most grateful because our job supports the progress and independence of their beloved children and sometimes depending on individual circumstances, we might be more ecstatic than the parent because we’ve worked really to ensure that the child or young person is given every opportunity to suceed . If you think about it, we celebrate the smallest steps of progress.

One of the things that I enjoy most about this line of work is shifting attitudes and perspectives on inclusive education and special educational needs.

Not everyone will be grateful for the work that we do but I don’t know about you, sometimes that spurs me on. I find joy in the fact that I want to give someone a fighting chance when not everyone does.

Research shows that the attitude of teachers are essential to the success of inclusive education programs for children with special needs (Avramidis & Norwich, 2002). This is also dependent on the country and type of special educational need and/or disability.

Generally speaking, most educators (in my experience) do have positive attitudes about special needs but if it gets tough, it becomes less about the educator’s ability and more about the child’s needs, which I think should always be challenged. The role of the inclusive educator is to find a way include the child. I am no expert but I imagine that is not an easy thing to do however it is where the inclusive educator finds their greatest success stories and children/young people are most grateful. This applies to all fields and disciplines, not just the class teachers and teaching assistants. How has your work helped to include a child despite their differences?

It is not easy for the child or young person to always be different but I bet they are grateful every time someone gives them an opportunity to suceed.

What is your motivation? I’m grateful to all inclusive educators out there who are invested in levelling the playing field for some of our most vulnerable members of the world.

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

Welcome: My First Post

Hello everyone. Thank you for taking the time to visit my site. I am truly humbled and privileged to be writing to you.

I have decided to start a public blog because I think across the world there are different practices and policies all concerned with the development of inclusive education but to varying degrees. It is quite clear that across the world, people with additional learning needs and/or disabilities have varying levels of support and expertise. I wanted to create a space where discussions can be held across a range of different contexts and disciplines to try and improve practice and policy on an individual level. This blog will particularly focus on children/young people from 5 to 16 as I think inclusive education is most effective and necessary within this age bracket given that is the rough compulsory schooling age across most developed countries. Although, there are likely to be posts related to children much young and adults much older.

I want to discuss policy, practice, research and resources that are being used across the world. I chose the name “The Inclusive Educator” because the ultimate goal is to support everyone in becoming more inclusive in their education practice. Whether you’re a parent trying to support your disabled child to play with other children or a teacher trying to get a child with ADHD to stay in the classroom longer.

I am pro-mainstream and believe that all children should have access to a mainstream education irrespective of their needs. I equally recognise that mainstream education may not be right for every child but every parent should have the right to at least try and see if their child can be successful in mainstream education.

I honestly would love to connect with anyone who has a genuine passion for special needs, disabilities or inclusive education. I want to connect with teachers, professionals, consultants, researchers, parents, adults with disabilities who can now reflect on their childhood experiences. Literally, if you have something to contribute to the discussion, please feel free to do so.

I am not going to be able to do this all myself as I can only speak from one perspective so I would welcome anyone to get in touch if they would like to contribute.

If I continue this blog successfully for a year, I hope to have a platform for open discussion and dialogue about inclusive education and people leave the blog more confident in their practice than when they first saw my page. There is no correct answer to every question and you will not find an inclusive education manual here as every child and situation is different but what you will find is an opportunity to reflect and try new things.