There are many moments within teaching where beliefs, knowledge and actions are challenged, deconstructed, or reconstructed. The ever-evolving nature of this profession and the social factors that influence educational practice, require continuous reflection to be at the heart of our beliefs, knowledge, and actions. Inclusive education for one has been subject to legislative and social change since the emergence of the Education Act (1944). Despite changes in policy and social awareness, has the landscape evolved in a meaningful manner? Have beliefs, knowledge and actions evolved to meet the ever-changing needs of children with additional needs in the classroom and beyond?
You could argue that change has occurred. The SEND Code of Practice (2015) demonstrated a commitment from the government in systematic change within the education of children and young people identified as having a special educational need and disability. You could also argue that the recent government publication of the ‘SEND and Alternative Provision Improvement Plan’ (2023) also demonstrates a commitment to meaningful change. Policy and legislation provide a framework that facilitate and support systemic change. They are the skeleton that uphold the systems we work in, through funding, direction, and accountability. However, it is the practitioners within the education systems that are fundamental to the experiences and outcomes of children and young people.
Rouse (2006) identified key variables that facilitate inclusive practice within a school, including: policy, leadership, classroom processes, relationships, and the quality of teaching and learning. Moreover, Rouse suggested that what teachers need to know, do and believe is central to developing meaningful educational processes for children and can even be a barrier to the development of inclusion within a school.
Initial teacher training (ITT) provides teachers with pedagogical principles to apply within the classroom. Although the training lightly explores inclusive practice, it can be argued that it does not prepare teachers with the breadth of knowledge required to understand the varied educational needs children may have. Experience and continued professional development build upon the knowledge acquired during ITT. However, it is pertinent to consider the following questions:
- What do I need to know?
- What do I not know?
- Has my knowledge based evolved with educational practice, policy and social change?
- Do I know the needs of the children, school and community?
- Who can help me develop my knowledge?
Seeking and developing knowledge is an important step, but what is done with this knowledge is what facilitates change within the school environment. What a teacher does with this knowledge is an essential element in the teacher’s learning process as well as children’s learning experiences.
The concept of education for all is widely shared. However, truly committing to this philosophy requires a reconfiguration of the practices in place within a school. Once knowledge has been acquired, developing clear processes that enable meaningful change is integral, not just within the classroom but on a whole school level. Considering how you can turn that knowledge into action on a micro and macro level will heavily impact the success of this process. The collaborative nature of school change must also be factored into the equation. This includes learning how to work meaningfully with colleagues to implement change. Additionally, there has to a belief in what is being done and why it is being done.
Who is your school for? Is an important question that all practitioners should reflect upon. Belief systems can be influenced by experiences, policy and leadership. Therefore, reflecting upon your belief systems and the school’s ethos is a practice that should be done on a regular basis. The beliefs held about the children within your school and classroom can shape your expectations and actions. Furthermore, the beliefs held around your abilities and self-efficacy for teaching children with special educational needs can also shape expectations and actions. As well as the beliefs you hold on the children and yourself, understanding your beliefs around responsibility is another important factor. The learning of all children within the school is a shared responsibility between all teachers. There are at times conceptions that specialist teachers or the SENDCO are responsible for the progress of children with special educational needs.
Understanding the gaps within your knowledge, how you transform that knowledge into action and the beliefs you hold about children with special educational needs, will enable you to develop your inclusive practice further.
To explore this further sign up for BDSIP’s SEND and Inclusion Conference: A Vision for Inclusion here: https://bdsip.co.uk/featuredevents/send-inclusion-conference-a-vision-for-inclusion/
Senior Inclusion Advisor
Department for Education. (2023). SEND and alternative provision improvement plan. GOV.UK. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/send-and-alternative-provision-improvement-plan
Department for Education. (2015). Special Educational Needs and Disability Code of practice: 0 to 25 Years. In GOV.UK. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/398815/SEND_Code_of_Practice_January_2015.pdf
Her Majesty’s Stationary Office. (1944). Education Act 1944. London: HMSO.
Rouse, M. (2006). Enhancing effective inclusive practice: Knowing, doing and believing. Kairaranga, 7, 8-13.