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