Removing Barriers to Inclusion: Making Our Schools More Inclusive
As educational leaders, inclusion should be our top priority. However, multiple systemic obstacles still prevent equitable learning environments for all. In this article, I will analyse predominant barriers to inclusion, propose evidence-based solutions, and address common questions around transforming our schools into communities where every child belongs. It was inspired by the work of Dave and Emma at WeCanAccess, one of the first conversations I had with Dave was that we needed to work for global systems change. This sounds unachievable, but incremental improvements by advocates within the system can have an impact.
Why Change in The Education System Is Needed
Recent studies illustrate UK schools’ ongoing struggles with inclusion despite legislative rights (Children and Families Act 2014; Equality Act 2010). Ofsted finds 14% of provisions inadequate in supporting students with Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND). Reports cite attitudinal, curriculum and facilities-based barriers limiting access to mainstream classrooms. A most worrying example of the barriers to inclusion in that exclusions are disproportionately high for students with SEND, or socioeconomic disadvantages. As leaders tasked with educating tomorrow’s citizens, we must challenge practices excluding whole populations from meaningful learning experiences and social integration. Our collective duty compels barrier removal through informed action.
Physical Barriers to Inclusion
The Lack of Accessible Facilities
As Ofsted highlights, too few schools meet basic standards ensuring buildings and amenities can be independently used by all – things like wheelchair ramps, automatic doors, elevators between floors and accessible bathrooms. Sensory rooms providing calming spaces for students on the autism spectrum or with certain mental health conditions also remain scarce. Investments focused on structural changes like these are necessary to welcome students whose needs extend beyond curriculum.
Resourcing Inclusion as Core Mission
Inclusion requires substantial initial investments but reaps social and economic rewards long term. Equitable school community wellbeing should not be undermined by short-term budget shortfalls or the view that accessibility upgrades distract from “core” priorities. Dedicated central funding and strategic long-term capital planning circumvent piecemeal, reactionary fixes making the built environment continuously suitable for changing student profiles. With leadership advocacy, inclusion’s relevance to developing healthy, skilled societies compels proper resourcing at policy levels and priority in individual school budget setting.
The special educational needs coordinator (SENCo) plays a pivotal part in partnering with parents and bringing together contributions from multiple agencies. As an Ofsted study into SEND provision in schools showed, the SENCo was key in forming connections with families and synchronising input from services evaluating or supporting needs. While SENCos clearly undertook the significant role of building relationships and coordinating services, the time they had available for their duties and professional development varied between schools. In some cases, the SENCo duties were combined with a full teaching load. This suggests the SENCo role is not uniformly prioritised across all schools. Less prioritisation could impact how effectively SENCos carry out their responsibilities and facilitate beneficial outcomes for students. Insufficient time and prioritisation may hinder SENCos from fully collaborating with all stakeholders and ensuring students get the support needed.
Social and Attitudinal Barriers
Changing Mindsets with Professional Learning
Implicit biases negatively impact educational expectations when characteristics like disability, socioeconomic status or ethnicity unconsciously factor into assumptions of intelligence or work ethic. Improving teacher preparedness involves mandatory training addressing ableism, poverty stigma and culturally responsive pedagogy techniques respecting diverse backgrounds. Collaborative reflection strengthens understanding how personal experiences shape worldviews requiring re-examination, ultimately enhancing all students’ experiences.
Students with disabilities also experience social isolation due to limited understanding of differing abilities among peers. Inclusive curriculum and anti-bullying programs cultivate empathy across student body differences through open dialogue. With leadership modelling inclusive attitudes, stigma melts away revealing common ground in shared humanity.
Curricular Barriers to Inclusion
Re-examining Standard Curriculum Structures
Rigid, testing-focused curricula based on same-age peer benchmarks overlook individual needs, preferred learning styles and talents. A one-size curriculum may suffice average developing students but marginalizes others. Flexible curricula tailored to diverse profiles integrate multi-modal, hands-on, project-based and community-linked competencies Honoring Personal Bests
Evaluating growth and competency-based on individual best progress better supports students reaching full potential – whether academic, social or life-skill focused – on nonlinear timescales respecting each person’s circumstances and pace of learning. Personalised competency tracking systems centralise student strengths. this allows planning for effectively supported next steps to optimise development for every student.
Person-Centered Evaluation Practices
Standardised testing prioritizes select academic skills divorced from competency mastery, misrepresenting abilities and limiting tailored intervention. Assessment barriers demand re-examination through diverse evaluation methods customizsed to personal learning styles and needs, such as portfolios, demonstrations, interviews and IEP goal monitoring. Multi-modal evaluations authentically capture individual growth over time by honoring strengths previous systems overlooked due to rigid parameters.
Addressing Multiple, Interrelated Barriers to Inclusion
Intersectional Challenge Requires Holistic Solutions
These challenges interconnect, like curricula barriers compounding social isolation when unresponsive to diverse backgrounds. Thus, progress demands systemic transformation through multifaceted intervention – from resourcing and training to culture shifts, flexible curricula and person-centered assessments supporting marginalised populations. With informed leadership guiding comprehensive long-term planning and stakeholder collaboration, inclusion’s human promise becomes the reality for all within our care.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q: Aren’t these changes too costly given tight budgets?
A: Inclusion yields economic returns through reduced spending on special programs and social services later. It also boosts community health lowering medical costs long-term. While requiring upfront investments, inclusion is cost-effective through socially empowered generations and should be prioritized accordingly.
Q: Won’t lowering standards compromise academic rigor?
A: Inclusion heightens rigor by engaging varied learning profiles and motivating all students via culturally competent, multi-modal instruction optimized for diverse talents. With assessment focusing on individual progress versus arbitrary benchmarks, higher order thinking and real-world skillsets develop to maximum capacity.
Q: How do we change entrenched mindsets over time?
A: Authentic culture change involves ongoing, collaborative professional learning at all levels to critically examine implicit biases. Leadership must model inclusive behaviours and attitudes while ensuring space for perspective-broadening through relationship-building across perceived “differences.” Positive results incentivise remaining open to growth through respectful dialogue.
Strategies for Improving Inclusion in Schools
Determining the Right Training and Support to Remove Barriers to Inclusion
Educational Endowment Foundation research shows targeted CPD on strategies like collaborative teaching and differentiated instruction can substantially benefit students with SEND. professional development on disability awareness and making reasonable adjustments also supports teachers to confidently meet a variety of needs. Peer-led coaching enhances implementation by addressing individual practice reflection needs across subject areas and year groups.
Utilising Classroom Accommodations and Adjustments
Studies indicate simple changes like preferential seating, adjusting lighting or noise levels, using fidget tools, personalized timetables and flexibility in due dates can greatly reduce barriers for students requiring additional support. Assistive technologies including audio books and speech-to-text programs also enable independent learning without dependency on adults or stigma when used appropriately.
Promoting Positive Relationships and Behavior Strategies
EEF evidence highlights the importance of fostering a positive and orderly classroom climate for inclusion through relationship-building, use of visual schedules, social narratives and social-emotional development lessons. De-escalation strategies and movement breaks regulated through timers further support self-regulation. Commissioned behavior specialists can train staff to apply non-aversive practices consistently across settings.
Adopting Inclusive Teaching Methods and Resources
Using inclusive whole-class teaching techniques including multi-modal instruction, visual aids, pre-teaching vocabulary and concept development sessions, scaffolded questioning, and differentiation by task, assistance or outcome according to EEF can engage all learners versus segregating based on perceived “ability.” Digital resources and purchased inclusive whole-class novel studies support implementation with fidelity when regularly practiced.
There are no quick fixes but a dedicated, evidence-based approach to training, reasonable adjustments, positive environments and tailored teaching mentality can successfully welcome diverse student populations as our schools strive to become genuinely inclusive communities.
Dismantling barriers demands patience but yields rewards through empowered, equitably educated communities. I am committed to driving these changes with stakeholder input to ensure our shared vision of inclusion is realised in every classroom without exception. Together, through open-minded problem-solving, we will transform schools into environments where all individuals feel a true sense of belonging.