The Fear

‘I’ve been worrying…’ (in the words of that great Ben Howard song) about many things in education, but the question of inclusion is the one that seems to run through most of the scenarios I come across as a special school leader. You’d think it would be a little more straight forward in my environment at a special school, which in many ways has a license to celebrate diversity and ‘meet need.’ The dominant fear is that our function, our ‘specialness’ is helping to sustain the status quo within an education system which struggles to be truly inclusive despite some very well meaning professionals. I could wrestle these thoughts around the metaphorical ring and guarantee I’d come out with the same sad conclusion that ‘our system is broken’ but that’s not going to help anyone, not least my sanity. So I’m going for hope over fear and my hope is our new Leicestershire and Rutland SEND and Inclusion Hub could be a fresh approach to supporting positive change- we certainly aim not to shy away from the sticky questions, including a deep look at ourselves.

So as I listen to Ben belting out ‘I will become what I deserve’ I reflect on 2 events in the last month and ‘the fear’ swells up again. In these 2 cases I fear that the young people will get less than what they deserve. Case 1: A parent of a child who has been out of education since September approached me for support and advice for her Year 10 daughter who is currently without a school place after a mental health breakdown. This had left her in a wheelchair and too anxious to attend school for a period of time. On trying to return, the school has told her they were unlikely to be able to meet her needs due to the wheelchair, which prevents her access around the old buildings. I wonder if it’s the chair or her new diagnosis of autism or both. The family are rightly searching for a new school with a different attitude to their daughter, they know such blatant discrimination is unacceptable but the fight for an inclusive, understanding school at this stage in her life is priority over tackling the injustice. There seems very little in place to support families who find themselves in this predicament with their teenager. I’m shocked this could happen, but what if beneath the surface this is the experience of many more?

Case 2: I’ve recently been supporting voluntary work with a refugee hotel which is the new home of families and around 30 children predominantly from Syria, Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan. Whilst the younger children soaked up a PE session- a young women approached me and asked if there was any chance she could have lessons, particularly English. She was able to tell me she was 16 and from Iraq. Having survived a difficult passage here and with an uncertain future, her desire to learn, to grow and survive was palpable. She reminded me in that moment of why I wanted to become a teacher in the first place, it is the deep belief that ‘education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’. An education could change the world of these two young women, worlds apart in their experiences, but joined in my thoughts by their personal battles, albeit different, the right teacher, the right education could change their life for the better.

Our privilege as teachers is to play a part in positive change through education. As leaders in education we need to set a vision which insists on an inclusive education for all. Our system has forced leaders to ‘play the game’, and not imagine that we should be helping change the rules to change the world.