Today’s open letter discusses Inclusion and its impact from the point of view of an experienced Teaching Head.
The Inclusion Agenda
Dear Mr Swinney/Ms Sturgeon
I have been reading with interest, and absolutely no surprise, some of the letters which have been written by discontented and exhausted teachers from across the country.
I have been teaching for 23 years now and for the last 4 of those I have been a teaching head with a teaching commitment of 0.45 FTE.
I have just over two and a half days to carry out all of the self-evaluation work and ‘driving forward’ of improvement priorities in my school.
The reality is that those two and a half days are spent firefighting and dealing with all of the issues which have arisen when I have been immersed in the, not inconsiderable workload of assessing, planning and teaching for a full to capacity class, 5 of whom have some kind of additional support need.
All of my more ‘strategic’ responsibilities are left until I can sit at my desk in an evening, usually around 5.30 or I often use my weekends and holidays. After all, who needs time to rest and spend time with their own families?
Like many teachers, I am also considering our current difficulties in education through the eyes of a parent.
My main concern, both as a parent and a teacher, is the very poorly funded and thought through inclusion policy which seeks to mainstream children with more and more significant needs.
On paper it all sounds very noble and forward thinking and of course all children have the right to an education regardless of their level of need.
However, in reality, placing children with a high level of need in our mainstream classrooms without adequate additional support for the school is failing not only those children with ASN but it is failing the children who have no additional support needs.
I have two children, who are both now at secondary school. They went to a small primary school with relatively small class sizes and with hugely dedicated staff.
However, even in a school which sounds like every parent’s dream, my children have been witness to children shouting and swearing at staff, staff and other children being bitten or violently assaulted and they have both been witness to missiles being hurled across the classroom, on one occasion one of these missiles was a chair!
My son was once kicked repeatedly in the head by a child with ADHD. Thankfully my son was fine but I had a rather rueful conversation with the head teacher about this incident which we both knew was pointless; we both knew his hands were tied because this child had a diagnosed additional support need.
I myself have lost count of the number of times I have had to deal with very angry parents who are upset because their child has gone home having been assaulted or frightened out of their wits because a child with additional support needs has had a meltdown because they are unable to cope with any level of independence in a mainstream class.
Indeed, I have also lost count of the number of times I have had to counsel staff after particularly distressing incidents which have left them feeling helpless and like they have let down all of the children in their care.
Can you imagine how demoralising it is to meticulously plan every day to try and Get It Right for Every Child, when every day the plans are blown apart by the actions of one or two children?
So what happens to all the other children whilst situations like the ones I have just described are being dealt with by staff? They are left to get on with it!
Their rights to an education in an environment which feels safe and secure are immaterial because they are entirely superseded by the rights of the child with ASN.
It would seem that staff are almost ashamed to mention the loss of their own rights to work in a safe and secure environment for fear that people will suppose they are putting their own needs before those of the children.
The fact is that staff should put their own needs first because they aren’t going to be much use to anyone if they end up ill due to stress, least of all a class of children. I don’t think any other professional would tolerate being verbally or physically abused in their place of work without ensuring there are consequences for the perpetrator. In attempting to Get It Right For Every Child we are getting it right for absolutely nobody.
Furthermore, parents are given an inordinate amount of power regarding where the best place for their child is, sometimes at huge costs to the local authority.
I was made aware the other day of a school having to make adjustments to their building to the tune of £100,000 so they could meet the needs of an out of zone ASN pupil when there was a school a mile down the road which had the required facility!
How many other children could benefit from that money being spent on something else? Let’s be honest, every parent only has the best interests of their own child at heart whether they have an ASN or not so surely the final decision surrounding placements should lie with the professionals who have the interests of all children at heart?
I know this is a situation which is repeated up and down the country. It happens in my school, it happens in my colleagues’ schools and it happens in the schools which my friends’ children go to. There are countless reasons that teachers are leaving the profession in droves, not least the fact that our pay has been subject to a succession of pay freezes, pay caps and real term pay cuts, but in my opinion, expecting staff to cope on a daily basis with no adequate support in a class of up to 33 children, many of whom may have significant additional support needs, is the number one reason for the exodus.
Please listen, put your money where your mouth is, give us the support we need to implement the inclusion agenda in a meaningful and sustainable way which actually supports all children and you’ll go a long way towards sorting the teaching crisis.
I doubt you will be able to count on votes from very many teachers come the next elections, you certainly won’t be getting mine.
A very disgruntled teaching head.