The introduction of the new version of the National Curriculum, with a year group based scheme of work has sometimes seemed to bring the whole into one simple argument. While some argue that it demonstrates “high expectations” and suggest that “they” hold such expectations, others begin to argue that, where some children are failing to keep up with their peers that somehow they should be “elsewhere”. Any alternative argument is met with an accusation of “dumbing down”, or some other put down.
In the early days of the drafting of the NC, I was worried by the emergence of the term “mastery”, because this connotation could be equated to a proportion of more able children, whose needs might be argued as better met in a separate establishment; Grammar Schools keep hitting the headlines.
There is also the idea of a National Standard, that has been notionally set by the Government that, on a simple reading of the National Curriculum suggests that all children should “know and understand” the contents of the scheme of work. So it is arguable that where a child “knows and understands” less than 100% of the scheme of work, that there are gaps that will affect their future progress. Can we really get to a stage where 100% of children in a year group will achieve 100% in any test situation? Therefore, by definition, there will be a proportion of children who will be deemed not to have achieved. These children are likely to largely be those whose learning is less secure and may also have some kind of Specific Learning Difficulty that underlies this.
Anyone who has regularly read my blog will know that I have raised concerns about those children who will be judged to not be on track to achieve at the cohort expectation, especially when they get to transfer age, at 7 or 11, or to use and adjust a phrase used prior to 2015, “Secondary ready”, which could then be extrapolated to “Junior ready”.
Rather than worrying about the potential for creaming off the top, I am beginning to be more exercised by the potential for the argument that certain children “do not belong” in mainstream education.
This, to me, is being exacerbated by a developing narrative of Inclusion as being synonymous with integration of SEN, rather than the idea of catering for the needs of all children. It is then easier for some to start to articulate “otherness” and “not fitting”.
If there has been systematic, forensic internal analysis of individual needs, plans put in place that have had limited impact, despite best efforts from appropriate staff, advice sought from external expertise that has also been implemented, then a case study might be drawn up that seems to support alternative needs.
However, a class teacher may express the view that X “doesn’t belong” because they do not have the expertise to address the evident needs. Limited teacher expertise, understanding or tolerance, does not make a child into a special need case. So quality of teaching has to be taken onto account. Negativity towards the learner, once expressed, cannot be taken back and this rupture can become the real cause of the need to move the learner. If an internal move is possible, it is to be hoped that this will not be with a label that colours the receiving teacher view, or it becomes a negative cycle with it’s own dynamics.
It has, for many teachers, become more difficult to fully define individual learning needs within the current NC, with systems deeming children to be “emerging”, until they have completed the curriculum to be delivered. As this is likely to be in the summer term, there needs to be a greater clarity about ongoing security with the essential learning. The system could have an inbuilt delay in intervention.
Inclusion is just doing your job well, for each and every child in the class and the school. Systems should be in place that identify the vulnerable learners and those who are potentially vulnerable, as an aspect of ongoing assessment activities. The notion of TIC, TAC, TOE should guide decisions as concerns deepen (team including the child, around the child, of experts), with teachers knowing the level of concern, interventions planned and ongoing outcomes from these interventions, so that expectations are coordinated across all aspects of a child’s learning.
In the absence of any other methodology, here’s a crib sheet of SEN categories with some possible identifiers.
At an extreme, I am reminded of a radio programme that I listened to while travelling from an ITE observation, which was the story of Albert Goering, the brother of Herman, "The Good Goering". The term “unter-menchen” came up in discussion about the removal of those who didn’t fit.
Is it possible that the fate of children with Special Needs or Specific Learning Difficulties will be described as “not fitting” and to be removed to another place, thereby bringing back into reality the idea of an under-being? Of course, when one is removed, another takes their place at the “bottom of the class”, or as a higher concern. Becomes cyclic.
Better to build teacher expertise so that individuals, and the school can deal better with needs.
Inclusion ethos; everyone has value in and for themselves. Every child matters (and always has)