The beginnings of inclusion can be traced back to the 1960s when policies of educational segregation began to be questioned. In the UK the Warnock Report (DES 1978), followed by the 1981 Education act radically changed the perception of special educational needs, coining the term SEN. The result was a policy of integration, with increasing numbers of pupils with SEN joining mainstream schools. From integration developed inclusion, whereby there was a movement away from medical models of disability towards social and educational models. Inclusion has since continued to evolve with its aims now widely perceived to “provide all learners with equality of educational opportunity” (Glazzard 2014).
In recent times inclusion has become an increasingly important global issue with the advent of the Salamanca Statement (UNESCO 1994), where 92 governments and 25 international organisations agreed that inclusion education of children within mainstream schools should become the norm. Inclusion has continued shape government policy, particularly in the UK with the coming to power of the New Labour government in 1997 which explicitly committed itself to the development of inclusive education. However the movement still faces many barriers.
The Standards Agenda, School League Tables and Accountability
At the same time as progressively increasing movements towards inclusion, there has also been a focus on raising standards, resulting in what has become known as the standards agenda. This is the drive, supported by targets, to raise pupils’ average test and exam results. The first national performance league tables in the UK began in 1992 with the publication of GCSE results. ‘Performance tables were also a key strand of the 1993’s Parent’s Charter which promised parents a ‘Right to Know” (Reed ; Hallgarten, 2003) and this was followed up in 1996 with tables being produced for Key Stage 2 exams in primary schools. League tables, it is argued, allow parents to make informed judgements in regards to which school to send their children. Furthermore, performance in these tables informs school accountability and inspections by OFSTED. ‘Schools judged underperforming face various sanctions including increased scrutiny, potential takeover by neighbouring schools or even closure’ (Leckie ; Goldstein, 2016). This has caused attainment levels to become high stake targets in schools. This marketisation and accountability of schools has created a potential conflict with inclusive policies. To many, standards and inclusion appear to be mutually incompatible.
Standards Focus on Core Subjects
Cole (2011) argues, “The standards agenda has led to a tightening of the curriculum, not only with the aim of promoting a ‘common culture’, but also through the development of a narrow view of attainment focusing on literacy, numeracy and science tests”. A broad curriculum is essential in order to meet the needs of all students, however, ‘a major concern is that curricula and pedagogies have been narrowed to focus on the measurements that performance tables have chosen to value’ (Reed ; Hallgarten, 2003). Government literature has continually emphasised the importance of a broad, balanced curriculum (DfES, 2014, for instance). This has been backed up by recent calls from OFSTED chief inspector, Amanda Spielman in her address to the Association of School and College Leaders (2017), however by focusing assessment for schools so narrowly and by having high-stake implications for not reaching set targets this is being sidelined by many schools, leading to ‘teaching to the test’ practices. Furthermore, according to finding published by the NUT (2015), ‘accountability measures disproportionally affect disadvantaged pupils and those with SEN or disabilities. Teachers report these children are more likely to be removed from lessons to be coached in maths and English at the expense of a broad curriculum’.
Quote about focusing on core for SATs prep, cancelling classes in other areas
With the focus being firmly placed on the three core subjects are we truly celebrating pupils diversity or indeed are we meeting the needs of all individuals?
Standards as Attitudinal Barriers to Inclusion
Glazzard (2011), examined perceived barriers to inclusion by conducting interviews with a focus group of teachers and concluded that the standards agenda represented the key barrier to pupils’ participation and achievement. The interviews showed that the standards agenda was in fact promoting exclusive practices amongst some schools, and having a knock on effect of building attitudinal barriers of teachers towards inclusion. This can be illustrated by an interview with a SENCO in one of the study primary schools: “I was at a meeting before the child (who had special educational needs) started school and the teacher who was going to be involved with John actually put up strong barriers before he arrived. She said she couldn’t cope with him before he started at the school and that she had to focus on getting her class through their SATs.”
Reflecting on this, it could be stated that the current education system celebrates high achievement over the valuing of difference (Goodley, 2007), which forces teachers to focus their time on pupils who ‘will produce valued outputs’.
Promotion of a Focus on ‘Valuable’, Borderline Children
In order to hit demanding targets schools are being said to focus their efforts more on some children as oppose to others (Dyson & Gallannaugh, 2007; Glazzard, 2011, 2014; Reed & Hallgarten, 2003). They concentrate their efforts on children of ‘middle ability’. These pupils can be pushed to higher levels of attainment with focused time and effort but this, it can be argued, comes at the expense of lower attaining (or indeed the highest attaining) students who may be left on the sidelines, being seen as beyond able to achieve desired standards. As Glazzard, (2014) puts it:
“They (teachers) are faced with a stark choice – to focus on those children who will make a significant difference to a school’s results or to educate children equally and risk being viewed as a failing teacher.”
This is also illustrated in the following extract from an interview with a primary school teacher, Sally.
“You can raise standards if you ignore the rest and work with your borderline groups. These are the children who some teachers target. Some teachers just teach the middle ones and hold the others. You hear them talking about it in the staffroom” (Glazzard, 2013).
One method to help teachers focus on these ‘valuable’ pupils may be to remove children with SEN from the classroom, as discovered in interviews with teachers by Glazzard (2011). The use of intervention programmes and resultant segregation from their main classes can furthermore lead add to feelings of failure and disenchantment (Glazzard, 2014).
Furthermore, Reed & Hallgarten (2003) speculate this has had an effect on funding levels for borderline pupils in comparison to their counterparts:
‘Year 6 pupils on Level Three and Year Eleven pupils at GCSE grade C/D interface may have had more money spent on them than any private school pupil”.
Promoting Exclusions of Children
A further question has arisen whereby if schools are to be judged on results will this affect their willingness to take on pupils who may adversely affect this?
High attainment targets and publication of league tables has led to the marketisation of schools, resulting in them becoming effectively in competition with each other. This, many argue, results in low-attaining students becoming unattractive with schools wary of accepting them (Ainscow, Booth and Dyson, 2006; Hodkinson, 2010; NUT, 2015)
Some have gone as far as stating ‘special educational needs are characterised in policy and in law as both deficient and potentially dangerous’ (Runswick-Cole, 2011).
This ‘potential danger’ can promote exclusion from schools, as Glazzard (2011) reported in an interview with a teacher:
“For a lot of teachers inclusion is not a priority. They have to focus on getting results…All you have to do is say a child is disruptive and you can’t handle him…They voice loudly to parents about the effect the child is having on the others and then they have parental backing to get the child out.”
This was echoed in research by Runswick-Cole (2011), who concluded “When the standards agenda meets the inclusion agenda in schools, the competing policy demands are all too often translated into the exclusion of children
There has, furthermore, been much recent attention on the so called ‘off-rolling’ of students in secondary schools (The Guardian, 2018; The Mena Report, 2018; House of Commons Education Committee, 2018). The House of Commons Education Committee (2018) defined off-rolling as ‘the process where students are removed from the school’s register by moving them to alternative provision, to home education or other schools’ and found that the accountability system and the governments new Progress 8 assessment criteria were a major factor in this, contributing to the 40% increase in exclusions over the past three years.
Do The Publication of League Tables and Accountability Raise Standards?
There is evidence that publishing league tables along with accountability measures does in fact raise standards. Following devolution in Wales, the decision was made to abolish the publication of league tables in 2001 (Burgess et al 2010). Research undertaken by Burgess et al, then compared GCSE results in the following years with those in England, where publication remained. The findings showed that ‘the reform significantly and systematically reduced school effectiveness’ (Burgess et al 2010). ‘The effect was equivalent to a fall of 1.92 GCSE grades per student per year, with the key performance measure of 5A*-C falling by 3.4 percentage points per school (Acquah, 2013). Futhermore, the results also showed that ‘the performance of schools in the top quartile of schools, by intake ability, poverty status or league table position was not affected’ (Burgess et al, 2010). Thus suggesting that the abolition of league tables actually led to an increase of educational inequality. Overall the study concluded that ‘school accountability policies hold promise for raising school performance, particularly for students from disadvantaged schools and neighbourhoods’ and that publication of league tables ‘appears to be an extremely cost-effective policy for raising attainment’ (Burgess et al 2010). These findings were reflected in research by Goldstein & Leckie (2016). However, they suggested a cause for this may be that ‘by stopping KS2 and KS3 testing at the same time as abolishing league tables, Welsh students became less exposed to high-stake tests, and were therefore arguably less well-equiped for the GCSE examinations too’.
A Case of Mutual Support?
In spite of these concerns some research has put forward the case that inclusion and the standards agenda can co-exist side by side.
Studies have been carried out which showed a lack of correlation between inclusion and attainment, for instance work undertaken by Dyson et al who concluded that “There is nothing In our finding that suggests this commitment (to inclusion) is likely to have a significant impact on levels of attainment at national, LEA or school level” and that “attainment is largely independent of levels of inclusivity in schools”. They deemed that there was significant variation in the performance of schools displaying similar levels of inclusivity therefore other, overriding factors were at play when observing attainment.
Furthermore, standards could even be interpreted as a force to drive inclusive teaching forward by encouraging schools to examine their internal processes and focus their attention on pupils who may otherwise be overlooked.
One of the issues in regards to inclusion is that it eludes clear definitions, having different meanings to different people. Because of this schools can cope with the seeming conflict between inclusion and standards by reinterpreting their meanings. A study of one local authority in the north of England, reported by Dyson & Gallanaugh (2007), illustrated how these reinterpretations can be employed by schools in order to negotiate the obstacles of the inclusion and standards agendas. Inclusion was defined in broad terms of strengthening learning and finding ways to aid the achievement of low-attaining students to achieve this as oppose to valuing differences. This resulted in the implementation of a ‘deficit model’ in order to view pupils, ordering students into groups based on their likely performance in assessments and the extent of the characteristics they displayed to enable them to reach attainment levels. For instance did they lack learning potential, language or thinking skills? Although some may argue that a deficit model in inherently exclusive, it did as Dyson argues, enable teachers to ‘slip easily between talk of equity and targeting’.
From the inclusive agenda “schools took a concern with marginalized students, a serious engagement with the issue of student difference, and a willingness to take risks with its teaching in the interests of its students”. From the standards agenda “they took a framework of educational goals against which its own efforts and the characterization of its students and families could be calibrated….measures of educational achievement gives the school a ready means of focusing its actions, assessing the perceived weaknesses of the children and families which it has to work with and determining what remedial action it needs to take”. In conclusion it is stated that “it could be argued that standards and inclusion are mutually supportive rather than contradictory”.
The emaphasis on standards, league tables and the accountability of schools and teachers has been with us for some time, and shows no sign of abating. League tables put schools in direct competition with each other and this risks marginalising those who need extra support even more. Although it can be argued that the standards agenda does increase attainment levels and, as I have stated above, there are ways the conflict between standards and inclusion can be effectively traversed, I do find them fundamentally mutually exclusive. Furthermore, the narrow focus of league tables on core subjects undermines the promotion of many other skills and achievements pupils make.
Surely this is an antithesis of the fundamental inclusive belief of supporting individual needs, by limiting what we see as ‘valuable’. As Runswick-Cole (2011) states:
“In practice the standards agenda conflicts with the inclusion agenda as schools are simultaneously required to drive up their academic results while at the same time they are required to ‘include’ children whose achievement falls outside the spheres of literacy, numeracy and science test scores”.
With teachers and schools being directly accountable for perceived failures in attainment is it no wonder that extremely worrying problems such as ‘off-rolling’ students continue to be reported in our national press.
The solutions to this dilemma are difficult, with a possible broader focus on accountability, (Aquah, 2013), the ‘developing and broadening of what is meant by success and achievement or the way in which it is measured’ (Lloyd 2008, p234), or to ‘reconceptualise achievement in a way that is attainable and accessible to all’ (Lloyd, 2008, p229). Either way solutions to these problems need to be sought if we are to meeting children’s individual needs.