Inclusion – Does anyone have a plan?

In this rousing blog, David Cameron challenges us to reflect upon the current meaning and purpose of inclusion. 

Share your experience in the comments below.

Does anyone have a plan?

I wonder if anyone else thinks that this is a question worth asking. Recent weeks have certainly put it at the forefront of my mind. We have had concerns expressed that “the presumption of mainstreaming is not working” and a criticism that inclusion was not serving the interest of young people. I wasn’t sure who was going to be surprised by that. The experience that I have had has always been that “inclusion” appeared to work better with younger pupils, and the risk of exclusion grew with the age of the pupils. Young people were consistently more likely to be in alternative provision or on long-term or repetitive exclusions in their last two years before reaching school leaving age than at any other time. I am confident that any analysis of national data would support that. For youngsters, whose behaviour was a concern, my sense was that as the level of physical threat they presented increased, any commitment to their inclusion diminished.

I became depressed at the level of spending on young people who were in alternative provision with no realistic expectation that they would return to mainstream schooling. The level of investment was such that it dominated much of the thinking about the whole budget. When I was Director of Children’s Services in Stirling we commissioned consultants to look specifically at this area of spend. We felt that we could not adequately invest in preventative strategies and maintain the commitment that we had made to these older children. That situation doesn’t seem to have changed. I am now involved with both Kibble and Mirren Park schools and the age profile remains the same.

To have young people excluded at the point of transition from school makes a mockery of any commitment to inclusion. It is as sad as the situation that far too many young people face as they move on from special schools and find that the range of options open to them is desperately restricted. Who wants a policy based on the “presumption of mainstreaming for a while, maybe until it becomes too difficult”? Yet it seems that that is the policy that we have had for years and, worse still, we have too often been smug about it.

As Head of Education in East Lothian, I encountered significant criticism when we decided to open a new specialist provision for younger children on the basis that “it flew in the face of inclusion”. Then, as now, I wished that there was more commitment to learners and less to slogans. I have always had the view that we needed a range of provision to meet a spectrum of need. My clichéd allegory was with swimming pools where there might be a training pool, a shallow end and a deep end and users could move between these as they saw fit. They could also stay in the shallow end until they were able to cope in the deep end and return there if they lost confidence or whatever. That model made sense to me. There should be provision that offers choice to young people and their parents. There should be opportunities for young people at all ages and stages to have interventions that would allow their needs to be addressed.

We should blur the lines between “mainstream”, “alternative” or “specialist” provision; our thinking should be less stark in terms of “either or”, and we need to think about “right for now”. Rather this than obsess with the idea that there is some form of provision which will always be right for every young person.

I often use the quote that “purpose is not simply a target that an organisation aims to achieve. It is its reason for being”. Inclusion is not a purpose; it could be a way in which we fulfil our purpose in education and surely that is to enable all young people to develop and fulfil their potential. If that is the ambition that we have, we need far better planning than we currently have. We need a plan which allows flexibility and fluidity, which offers a range of provision and which aims to have young people included with their peers at the end of their formal education as often as they are at the beginning.

It would be great to get a debate about this through PINS. In education we seem too easily seduced by the dichotomy and the adoption of positions, let’s start 2017 on the quest for synthesis and progress.

David Cameron
Education Consultant
Find him tweeting @realdcameron

Childless Parents

PINS member, Hazel Whitters, reflects on the difficult circumstances that surround the removal of several siblings from parents, and the ongoing needs and rights of both children and adults.

The topic of multiple removals is accompanied by intense emotion and a sense of failure mixed with success. The term describes circumstances which lead to several brothers and sisters in a family being adopted. The SHANARRI indicators support Professional’s decision-making in such circumstances. For birth-parents, however, there must be hope at every stage that changes can be made and the removal of children averted. Such circumstances are difficult, but we must champion the rights of the child.

All human beings have rights. Rights contribute to our understanding of ourselves, and our roles in the world. Rights grant us freedom of choice. Rights allow us to be all we can be. Children in the 21st century have a right to experience childhood within a birth-family culture, but society has the responsibility to assess and decide if the circumstances fulfil the child’s human right to achieve potential – the human right to enjoy life’s journey.

Research by NSPCC (2016) shows that 60,000 UK children were recorded on the child protection register, or had a child protection plan in 2013.  In Scotland in 2015, 2,700 children were on the child protection register. Statistics tell us that children who experience a childhood in the care-system are four times more likely to have mental health difficulties, and seven times more likely to have behavioural issues than their peers.

Practitioners are well aware of the inter-generational cycle of families who are involved with services, time and time again. Today’s support mechanisms are multiple, and child protection is everyone’s responsibility – health, education, social work, voluntary sector, housing, police, and local community embrace vulnerable families. The Family Nurse Partnership, New Orleans Model, Mellow Parenting, Solihull Approach, Positive Parenting Programme, and the therapeutic relationship are approaches used throughout the country by professionals who are determined to make an impact upon the cycle of deprivation. We want parents to succeed, but we have to action the rights of the child, and we have to recognise and accept that every mother and father cannot achieve active parenting within their child’s formative years.

Colin Morrison reflected upon the work of PINS in a previous blog. He identified the driving force as needs and rights, and describes a practitioner’s “burden of responsibility.” But empathy and compassion have always been in abundance in the third sector. We are vocational workers and responsive caring is what we do best, and this liberates practitioners to recognise that there are several vulnerable human beings in a context of multiple removals: the child, and the childless parents. The mother and father whose child has been adopted still require our help, in a different category of need, as vulnerable adults.

Hazel G. Whitters

Senior Early Years/Child Protection Coordinator in a Glasgow Voluntary Service.