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Inclusion and Diversity Essay

The professional role of the class teacher is continually changing. It has long been expected that teachers should effectively accommodate all children regardless of their needs, with strategies and practice differing within and between settings to ensure that all children learn. However, recently more specific and detailed guidance has emerged that focuses on understanding the range of children’s needs (Hanko 2003).

Instead of expecting children to ‘come up to standard’ or otherwise be segregated, an emphasis is now on schools to adapt and be flexible in order to accommodate, fully integrate and include every child (Tassoni 2003). Every Child Matters (ECM) details how it is the legal responsibility of the class teacher to ensure its five outcomes ensure inclusive pratice for all pupils. Evidence of this is apparent within the Early Years Foundation stage (EYFS), where meeting and understanding the diverse needs of children is highlighted.

Based on the Childcare Act (2006), the EYFS aims to provide every child with the best possible start in life and with support to fulfil their potential (DCSF 2008b). The statutory guidance states: ‘Providers have a responsibility to ensure positive attitudes to diversity and difference – not only so that every child is included and not disadvantaged, but also so that they learn from the earliest age to value diversity in others and grow up making a positive contribution to society’ (DCSF 2008:9).

Having such an understanding enabled me during my placement experience, to be particularly objective and critical with regards to how well the class teacher raised attainment and met the classes’ diverse needs. During the experience particular attention was played to the teaching strategies’ and practice in place within the setting, the learning environment and how the class teacher personalised learning. For the benefit of this assignment many of these observations regarding the inclusion of diverse needs were focused on two specific children, one of whom was identified as having a Special Education Need (SEN).

A child has a special educational need if he has a learning difficulty which calls for special educational provision to be made for him (Education Act 1996). This is the case for the observed child as his disability hinders him from making use of educational facilities that are generally beneficial to children of the same age (Appendix 1). Whilst the second child was learning English as an Additional Language (EAL) as he came from an Eastern European background and had recently moved to the country and school.

Like the child with SEN he required additional support to ensure understanding during the school day as well as making him and his peers aware of cultural diversity and how this was valuable to society (Appendix 2). This critical review will begin by reflecting on inclusive teaching practices and strategies to meet diverse needs. As the observed class was a foundation stage class, a significant strategy seen to be effectively used was that of ‘play’ and its various multifaceted and multifunctional forms.

It could be seen through observation that all barriers of communication between children were removed, as they played freely and interactively together. Both the child with EAL and the observed child with SEN had developed ways of communicating with other children in the class to ensure that they were fully included, the majority of which time was without the aid or support of the class teacher or teaching assistant. Interestingly this idea of play is deep routed in historical theory, with the observed practice relating significantly to the beliefs of Vygotsky.

He emphasised how play creates a zone of proximal development, where children behave beyond their age and above their daily behaviour (Vygotsky 1978). He believed that play makes children become more confident enabling them to experiment with language and their bodies in ways that perhaps they would not have done, had they not been engaged in play. Such an understanding significantly relates to observations of both observed children (Appendix 3). Perhaps these observations are not surprising, as play has more recently been recognised as being vital to children’s all-round health and wellbeing.

It provides opportunities for first-hand experiences that underpin their understanding of and engagement with the world; it facilitates social development and cultivates creativity, imagination and emotional resilience (Daily Telegraph 2007). It is therefore not surprising that it significantly underpins the Early Years framework with the EYFS highlighting its importance to all areas of development (DCSF 2008:7). Within play, the class teacher had also effectively selected and chosen toys, resources and materials that were culturally diverse in the hope that children would appreciate and accept this as the norm (Appendix 4).

Such practice has been researched by theorist Lindon, who highlights the importance of children seeing themselves and their family reflected in play resources, visual images and books (Lindon 2001). She also believed that good practice included reviewing the messages given by all your resources and the experiences offered as it is part of the class teachers’ role to extend young children’s understanding beyond their own backgrounds (Lindon 2001). Practice within the setting reflected her beliefs as the class teacher gave the Eastern European child, chances to share with the class things that they did in their family.

As his English was not advanced he often showed pictures and brought in things that he had received from church. Not only does such practice support the beliefs on Lindon, but it also helps the class teacher meet inclusion guidelines from the National Inclusion statement which highlights the importance of teachers being aware of the different experiences, interests and strengths pupils bring with them to school and how they should plan their approaches to teaching and learning so that pupils can take part in lessons fully and effectively (DfE 2008).

As the observed child was being encouraged to share his experiences one is able to see how this guidance is being achieved. This leads one to explore other strategies that encourage diversity. In particular a model of best practice put in place a different approach to teaching children from diverse backgrounds due to the particularly high numbers of children learning EAL (Appendix 5). In this setting, professionals encouraged cultural diversity by allowing, when necessary, children to use their home languages.

Support for this belief has been seen within the Plowden Report which also embraces the child centred philosophy (Bourne 2001). Similarly research by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO 1953) supports this view, reporting that the home language is the best medium for instruction and for literacy development and should be used for as long as feasible. An explanation for this would be that because the home language facilitates subject learning and literacy development it is the means through which ‘a child absorbs the cultural environment’ (UNESCO 1953:47).

It is through using this language that the school believed its children were going to learn most, as they have a greater understanding of what they are being taught. However, the placement setting chose to meet children’s diverse needs differently. Instead they did not separate the child with EAL but instead often supported him by differentiation, much of which involved informal methods of recording and learning. Particular provision which supported his Eastern European culture was a whole class ‘Ourselves’ topic that was covered for a whole term.

During this time he was encouraged to bring in objects or photographs of things from his culture to share with his peers (Appendix 6). Legislation which supports this practice can be found within the Every Child Matters framework, which recognises the importance of preparing all children to live in a diverse, multi-ethnic society (DfES 2004). One could argue that the observed setting achieves this by recognising every child’s differences and their individual contributions to the class.

Similar support also emerges for within the National Curriculum framework, which also highlights the importance of responding to pupils’ diverse needs, in particular the document details how teachers need to be aware of the different experiences, interests and strengths pupils bring from their range of diverse backgrounds (DfEE 1999). Having observed the very differing practice in two settings, one is able to make a judgement as to which appears to be most effectively catering for the diverse needs of its pupils.

One would be inclined to argue that teaching children from an Eastern European background in their home language, isolates them and does not create an inclusive environment, and instead draws attention to their differences. It could also be argued that their social development is likely to suffer, as interaction with peers is likely to be limited to those who were able to speak their home language.

As a trainee teacher one would be inclined to believe that the most effective way would be to recognise pupils differences and value their contributions, whether that be through discussion and by recognising difference, through demonstrations and visitor or the showing of differences and traditions. It could therefore be concluded that the provision within the placement setting effectively achieved this. Having explored and evaluated the effectiveness of a variety of inclusive teaching strategies, one becomes interested in analysing other ways that the class teacher is able to meet pupil’s diverse needs.

This leads one to explore how the learning environment can be used to enhance such practice. In becoming familiar with the Early Years statutory framework it becomes apparent that the learning environment plays an important role, and as a result has been made one its main principles, known as ‘Enabling Environments’. The government document highlights how ‘The environment plays a key role in supporting and extending children’s development and learning’ (DCSF 2008).

To put it simply the document encourages class teachers to use the learning environment to meet the diverse needs of all children. At the placement setting the arrangement of the physical environment was particularly important, especially for the focus child with SEN whose physical impairments needed catering for. Had the classroom not been arranged effectively, his level of involvement and interaction with adults and children would have been affected (NAEYC 1991:43).

During my time at the setting I observed numerous adaptions to the environment to suit his individual needs, these adaptions included the use of a chair for him during whole class sessions, large spaces between tables so he could walk around the classroom with ease and as the he was smaller than the majority of children in the class all equipment and resources were checked at the start of the term to ensure that they were accessible to him (Appendix 7).

Such adaptions as those described warrant support from researchers Salisbury & Smith (1993) who encourage spatial accommodations that make it possible for children with special educational needs to participate in the classroom (Salisbury & Smith 1993). Similar support can also be found within the SEN code of practice, which describes how schools may need to use specialist equipment, approaches and adapted activities for some children to ensure that they are fully included (DfES 2001).

As well as these adaptions made for the child with SEN, similar adaptions were put in place to include and meet the diverse needs of the Eastern European child who could speak very little English. Perhaps the most noticeable of these was the classroom’s printed resources which reflected the Polish language spoken by the focus child as well as the English language and a picture that could be universally understood by all.

Such practice not only satisfies recommendations within the SEN code of practice, in similar ways to adaptions made for the focus child with cerebral palsy, but it also meets guidance set out within the more recent document Removing Barriers to Achievement:

The government’s strategy for SEN (2004). It details how teachers must make provision that enables individuals to participate effectively in the curriculum and assessment activities (DfE 2004). One could argue that the described practice reflects this as the hild is being encouraged to learn by being given the same opportunities as the rest of the class as oppose to being disadvantaged by his inability to understand labels and displays around the room. Having said this, models of best practice take this inclusion one step further and highlight areas where the observed setting could be more thorough and significantly improve their practice. Provision in place at these settings included extensive bilingual websites, parent classes and translated letters (Appendix 8).

Such practice finds support from researcher Cummings (1991) who believes extensive adaptions and changes to a learning environment are necessary if settings are to be inclusive. Having said this, it could be argued that the smaller adaptions that the placement setting had made, were also going some way to meeting his beliefs, despite them not being to the extent of the models of best practice. To further strengthen this argument is the practicality of implementing adaptions such as translated letters and bilingual websites as they require bilingual skills, time and money that many schools do not have access to.

As a result one would be inclined to believe the observed placement settings attempts to be diverse and inclusive met current legislation sufficiently without placing unnecessary pressures on the class teacher’s role. As well as the physical learning environment being important when supporting children with diverse needs so is the emotional learning environment, which involves ensuring that children enjoy and want to achieve at school. Such beliefs are reflected within the Every Child Matters document, with one of its desired outcomes, being that of ‘enjoy and achieve’ (HMSO 2004).

In order that children are motivated to learn it is important that the work is set at a level that is suitable for them, that it is achievable, but also a challenge. According to NASP, Children are naturally curious; they want to explore and discover. If their explorations bring pleasure or success, they will want to learn more (NASP 2003). To relate this to attainment, if children experience success and achievement in their work they want to take this further and are motivated to learn.

This is where the use of differentiation is particularly effective, as work can be set at more achievable levels so that all children are able to experience success (Appendix 9). The importance of this has been highlighted by government, claiming that differentiation ‘helps the school to meet the learning needs of all pupils’ (DFE 1994). This has also been reinforced within the National Curriculum and within the EYFS which both indicate that meeting the individual needs of all children is central to their beliefs (DCSF 2008; DfEE 1999).

Similarly the study of differentiation by Westwood (1997) recognises its benefits particularly when catering for those who have a barrier to learning. During my placement experience it was evident that both the child with EAL and the child with SEN were having their needs met using differentiation on a daily basis (Appendix 10). Despite seeing both focus children react positively to the differentiation in place, on a couple of occasions; comments were made towards them about their work being easier.

Such observations support the belief that when differentiation is not done effectively, it can create segregation within the classroom (Hart 1992). By meeting one set of National Curriculum and Early Years inclusion guidelines, obstacles may be put in place, preventing the reaching of others. For example in meeting the diverse needs of all through obvious differentiation they may actually point out the differences between children and make certain children feel excluded (DCSF 2008; DfEE 1999).

As a trainee teacher, one could attempt to build on the observations made, taking the positive strategies that were seen, such as the different methods of recording pupils work and build on this so that the more negative aspects could be minimised. In particular segregation and exclusion could be reduced by changing the differentiated groups regularly, according to pupil progress and between subjects. This would potentially make it more difficult for children to understand that they are grouped and being given work according to ability.

This leads one to analyse how assessment can be used to help class teachers cater for children’s diverse needs. As the range of needs within a class is evident, even from just focusing on two pupils with additional needs, the importance of individual assessment is obvious if these individual needs are going to be catered for. This importance has been recognised within the Primary National Strategy which details how assessment for learning is the process of seeking and interpreting evidence for use by teachers to decide where the learners are in their learning, where they need to go and how best to get there (DfES 2004a: 13).

The placement setting managed to achieve this through observation, which appeared to be particularly successful for the children with SEN and with EAL, as they had difficulty with communicating their ideas and responses (Appendix 11). This use of observation for assessment is support by theorist… who believes that…. Using this theory and the observed practice during placement, as a trainee one would want to implement similar practice so that all children’s needs are catered for and this is not just limited to those that have the ability to communicate their ideas.

When focusing on the personalisation of learning, the focus child with cerebral palsy had a number of additional measures in place for him that ensured his inclusion in the mainstream classroom. Unlike all children with SEN, his disability meant that he had been given a statement of Special Educational Needs and as a result he benefitted from a one-to-one teaching assistant for a number of hours a week. Not only does this form of support cater for his specific needs but it also put him at the centre of this learning. An idea initially detailed within the Plowden Report (1967).

The report put forward ideas originally investigated by Piaget, recommending child-centred education and discovery learning to be used to integrate children following Piaget’s belief that all children learn at different rates and was in favour of waiting until they were ready to move onto a further stage or schema (Piaget 1965). One would therefore argue that it is from research such as this; that the quality of teaching and learning has improved for many children they are now encouraged to develop at their own rate and pace.

Having said this, the argument is not one sided, with some researchers believing that Piaget’s theory of school readiness was impractical in practice. For example in a class with thirty children, is it realistic for the teacher, to know the exact state of readiness for every child, and to set individual work? On a practical level, this is not possible; suggesting Piaget’s theory is unrealistic.

It is not feasible for the child with SEN to always have work set at his own individual level; however during the few hours that he is given one-to-one support more challenging work and activities that he would not be capable of tackling alone are addressed, Physical Education being one of these areas (Appendix 12). Such practice meets recommendation within the Strategy for Special Educational Needs (2004) which details that successful inclusion is determined by the quality of their experience; how they are helped to learn, achieve, and participate fully in the life of the school (DfE 2004:25).

One could argue the way that the extra support is used within the setting improves the quality of children’s experiences. Support within literature comes from Vygotsky (1978) believing adults not only support children but also encourage progression through ‘scaffolding’. In his view it is not only important to focus on what children can do unaided and within their capacity but also what they can do with adult support (Gindis 1998). Development is dependent on learning and through learning they develop. Learning should be matched to the child’s level of development but should also take them beyond it’ (Duffy 1998:92). Though formal and informal observations completed by the one-to-one assistant and the class teacher, they are able to see what the child is capable of without support and then build on this during his one-to-one time. This personalisation of learning for the child with SEN is also met through his Individual Education Plan (IEP) which is used to support his individual learning needs (Appendix 13).

Support for such practice was not only seen from the parents of the focus child and the class teacher (Appendix 13) but can also be seen within government legislation, both within the Education Act (1996) and the SEN Code of Practice (2001), which highlight the importance of identification and assessment of pupils with special educational needs (DfES 2001). Putting in place an IEP is one way of achieving recommendations within the SEN Code of Practice which details how schools should match provision to children’s SEN in response of their individual needs (DfES 2001).

The implementation of his IEP demonstrates inclusion as the class teacher uses his targets to direct his learning and set him goals to achieve, in a similar way that his peers are achieving their early learning goals. Despite the placement setting appearing to use IEPs successfully some research exists to dispute them, particularly regarding their involvement of parents. According to Rock (2000) in some cases parents feel that educational programs have already been determined before they are involved in their child’s IEP meetings and therefore they may not agree with the progress and the direction of the development being encouraged.

Such a claim, disputes initial reasoning for such practice being put in place as legislation emphasised integrated practice with parents so that they had an opportunity to plan the most appropriate program for their children alongside the professionals (Friend 2005; Goldstein & Turnbull 1982; Martin et al 2004). However if this research is to be used to form an argument against the success of IEPs, its validity most be investigated. One could argue that Rock (2000) appears to be bias as she is an SEN teacher whom appears to have lost faith in the education system.

She appears to be putting into question the effectiveness of the IEP program because of individual cases that were not successful, rather than judging each case individually. In addition to this her research appears to be based on only a very small number of cases, leaving one to question whether her research is to generalising and judgemental. Having taken both of these points into consideration research one would be inclined to dismiss this research on the grounds that it is not valid enough to create an argument against IEPs. Instead one would be better to judge the success of IEPs based on the practice seen on placement.

Having gained an understanding of how parents can support class teachers in meeting the diverse needs of children, attention is turned to other outside support that my also aid teachers in providing effective provision. In particular is the support available to cater for the diverse needs of pupils, like the focus child with EAL. The Ethnic Minority Achievement Grant (EMAG) is a government scheme ran via the Department for Children Schools and Families (DCFS) allocated on a need based formula to all Local Authorities (NALDIC 2010) (Appendix 13).

Support of this kind was investigated during the placement however it was made clear because they did not have high numbers of children learning EAL that they were unable to access this support. One could argue that no matter how many children the school have to cater for that have EAL, they still need provision to meet children’s diverse needs and for this reason they should all have access to this government support. Research conducted by Sure Start supports this, as they believe, there is a lack of access to expert support for developing good practice in equal opportunities and cultural awareness (Sure Start 2004).

In the case of the EMAG expertise is available however for work to be carried out more widely additional funding needs to be allocated (Sure Start 2004). Using Lincolnshire as an example, research from Sure Start shows how only a small number of settings have had access to this grant, meaning those benefiting from Government support is very limited. However one could assume that if settings are lucky enough to have access to this type of support, it would enable class teachers to provide even better provision than that seen during the placement experience.

Having analysed research, legislation, literature and my placement experience throughout this assignment, one begins to conclude what provision most successfully allows class teachers to inclusively meet the diverse needs of pupils. Play is a particularly valuable strategy which can effectively cater for a diverse range of needs. Resources, toys and book can also be incorporate into play to encourage children’s acceptance of diversity. The physical and emotional learning environment also plays a vital role, as it motivates learners and helps removes barriers to children’s learning.

The learning environment was analysed in depth when focusing on the needs of two children within the placement setting. Provision showed how the class teacher met the needs of the child with a physical impairment by arranging resources at a lower level, by giving him a chair to sit on as oppose to the carpet and create more free space around the room for his of access. Similarly classroom displays and labels reflected the home language of an Eastern European child so that he had equal opportunities to understand and access these resources as his peers.

Other suggested strategies as seen in models of best practice included bilingual websites, parent classes and translated letters so families of EAL children can actively support the setting in meeting children’s diverse needs. Other strategies that class teachers may use to personalise leaning include differentiation, one-to-one teaching and IEPs, however all of these have faced an element of dispute, whether that be on the grounds that they are based on traditional theories or that modern researchers have proven more updated theories.


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