By thinking deeply about how we can provide access for all our learners, we as teachers make learning more effective for everyone. We grow as schools by facing the challenges inclusion presents and our students grow as they value rather than fear difference.
This is a point made clearly by the excellent UNESCO Policy Guidelines on Inclusion in Education Inclusion report which states that (p8)'Inclusive education is a process of strengthening the capacity of the education system to reach out to all learners'
Even more powerfully this report makes the point that (p14):
Looking at education through an inclusive lens... implies a shift from seeing the child as the problem to seeing the education system as the problem.
It is interesting then how many schools still seem to pride themselves on their ability to exclude students to maintain their standards and prove what a good school they are. Whether this be on a state level with the reintroduction of grammar schools in the England (and I write as the product of a grammar school) or in international schools where very often the school's professions of international mindedness do not seem to include teaching non typical students.
It seems to me that schools and systems could make great leaps towards inclusion simply by changing their mindset to view each child they can not cater for as a weakness in their system to be addressed if possible. Clearly not every school will always be able to cater for the needs of every child. However every school has a duty not to view this inability as something to be proud of. Every time a school or a teacher can not cater for a student they need to ask themselves deeply what can we do in future to ensure that next time we have the professional capacity to deal with a student like this.
When school's or indeed individual teachers view not being able to cater for an individual need as an opportunity for institutional and professional growth rather than the weakness for that particular learner, eduction will improve for all.
No one is under any illusions that the journey to genuinely inclusive education will be smooth or easy but not to embark on that journey 'because our school has high standards' or 'I shouldn't have to teach children like that' strikes me as avoiding the key moral purpose of education to provide opportunities and growth to our students.
The late Bill Powell writing with Ochan Powell made the point very clearly when writing about the Next Frontier Inclusion initiative in international schools;
How many of our schools would be comfortable with an admissions policy that excluded ethnic or religious groups? We suspect very few. However, a significant number of our international schools have admissions policies that either explicitly or implicitly state: "No dyslexics, No autistics. No Down Syndrome Children."
I would urge all of us to ask ourselves why we are passionate about education. Surely it in part because we devote our lives to a profession where we can make a positive difference in peoples lives. By limiting this passion to students who learn 'normally' we cut ourselves off from rich opportunities for personal and professional growth that will benefit all of our learners.
To associate high quality education with the inability to cater for the needs of the 15%-20% of the population who have learning needs of some description, seems to me to be Orwellian doublethink in its purest form.
Inclusive education is a journey that can begin with a school having the moral courage to accept just one a student who will challenge them. I hope that in the coming years more and more schools will have this courage. If they do then quality education will become synonymous with the ability to reach all learners rather than the false pride in only being able to reach those who find learning the easiest.