I read an interesting thing the other day. It is an important story. I’ve written about it a fair amount myself: this war of expectations that we seem hell bent on waging on our mainstream schools. We set the bar in terms of exam (or end of Key Stage Test) results high (in the name of raising expectations and closing gaps), we orate on the subject of banishing the soft bigotry of low expectations from our schools up and down the land, and yet on the other hand, we demand, indeed, it is enshrined in law, that there is a presumption of inclusion – that all those difficult to teach kids, all the ones with tricky behaviour (and I’m not going to go into the reasons for that right now), all those ones with real, big, brainy type reasons that learning is so difficult to do, are educated cheek by jowl with the most academic.
We seem to like the idea of inclusion. As a parent I certainly do. Yesterday it was Sam’s birthday, and he and a bunch of his mates from school (some of whom are now at their local colleges and doing very well) went ten pin bowling. They had lunch together and then a game, and they had a really great time. We were looked after by a young woman (who was rather run off her feet) who, when she first saw them, was a little bit unsure of herself. I prepared myself to step in as interpreter, but then something rather magical happened.
She sidled up to me, and she whispered in my ear, “Excuse me, but did that boy,” she pointed to one of Sam’s friends, “did he go to ——- Primary School?” It turns out that so did she. She used to play with him when he was little and she was in Year 6. It turns out we know her brother. She relaxed and breezed about, full of confidence – and everyone carried on having a great time.
Social inclusion is important. It allows moments like these to happen. Fear of disability is reduced in the typical population, and, as a result, birthday parties like Sam’s go with a bang, rather than ending in tears. (And believe me, birthday parties are a Big Deal.) As a society, our inclusive education policy seems to me to stand as a testament to who we like to think we are – the kind of community we like to think that we are building. It makes us feel good about ourselves.
And yet. There it is. Exam Results Matter. And it seems they matter more.
They matter so much that these inconvenient children, you know, the ones who, despite all our hard work, all their hard work, despite all the interventions, all the special groups, all the input and nurture and all the everything we do, are shuffled off out of the way before they can do any damage to the position in the league table. Who’d have thought it?
But this isn’t the thing that really interests me (despite the fact that my name is in it – thank you @fredamoya for pointing it out!). No, the thing that really gets me going is this:
This is a really big story. It’s a really important story. It affects us all and I, for one, am glad that the education media are picking it up.
But let’s face it, it’s going to be an uphill struggle to get the story a higher profile. After all these years, we are too used to the big school stories being about failing teachers and failing schools. Teacher-bashing has been the thing you read in newspapers for as long as I can remember. There hasn’t been a positive story in the mainstream media for years.**
And, of course, the stories we want to hear about SEND are the cockle warming stuff of inspiration porn. The sort of story I have just told you. Despite the damning figures we don’t seem to want to hear about the other sort, where the policies that we all agree are A Good Thing act against the interests of the most vulnerable.
Our politicians and policy makers don’t want to be told that their actions are causing the problem. They’d rather it was us.
**Thank you TES for turning the trend.