When inclusivity becomes exclusion

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Despite legislation mandating that students with disabilities receive an education equal to that of any other student (Disability Discrimination Act 1992) the inclusion of students with Special Needs into the mainstream classroom is still a controversial debate in many staffrooms and school car parks.

Whilst such conversations are generally only had behind closed doors, as any opinion against ‘inclusivity’ would carry heavy consequences, those on the front lines are not always confident in their ability to best cater for our most vulnerable learners, resulting in a negative culture of exclusion developing in our schools.

A school close to home is currently struggling to accommodate for a spike in the enrolment of students with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). From a peer point of view it seems that teacher attitude towards these types of learners is fast becoming the greatest hurdle in achieving true inclusivity.

‘He shouldn’t be here’,

‘This isn’t the place for him’

‘It’s not fair on him’

These are among the more positive comments to be heard from the mouths of teachers and Teacher Aids in the past few months.

One particular child who lives with a co-morbid diagnosis, presents with a range of violent and unsafe behaviours and is struggling to ‘fit in’ to his first year of Prep. He currently attends school for just two hours a day, and last week within an hour of being in the classroom has struck a fellow student directly in the face, bitten two teachers, threatened to kill two classmates and kicked and punched the teacher aids.

The school appears to be doing all of the ‘right’ things to promote inclusivity for this child, but I do wonder if the lack of teacher training, paired with escalation of negative teacher attitudes is contributing in some way to this declining situation.

Parents are starting to whisper in the car park, teachers are up in arms at having to be subjected to such dangerous conditions and staff are losing patience. The requirement to ‘include’ this child without the proper training, and evidence based programs in place is fast becoming the reason for this child’s ‘exclusion’ from our school environment. By pretending to ‘include’ this child, we have ultimately contributed to his exclusion. Parents have already turned their backs on him, students are scared of him and despite their best intentions, teachers are fearful.

Who is to blame here? You see the problem cannot be that the child is just ‘not fitting in’, or ‘it isn’t the right place’, but more that the school has not genuinely adapted and properly prepared to accommodate for the arrival of the child. The school was reactive instead of proactive and action plans were being made as situations came to a head. A lack of current knowledge and evidence based practice is to blame.

When I hear people say, ‘This isn’t the place for him’ it drives me wild.

Where do they suggest ‘is’ the place for him? At home? Should he stay at Kindy until he reaches an age at which he is mentally able to cope with the demands of the school environment? He could be shaving before he makes it to Year 1!

Special school programs when they are available and within a reasonable proximity to the family, are limited in space and are often only able to consider Intellectual Disabilities as criteria for entry.

Students with ASD are being left out in the cold. Too left of centre for the mainstream, but to ‘normal’ for special settings. With the prevalence rate of ASD currently sitting at around 1 in 80 students, isn’t it about time teacher attitudes got a kick up the bum, and teacher training programs and systemic funding be modified to reflect this need in our classrooms?

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8 thoughts on “When inclusivity becomes exclusion

  1. Having been the PSD coordinator (Program for Students with Disabilities) at a mainstream school I can certainly see both sides of the argument here. While proper education and training should be given to all teachers to be able to successfully integrate students with disabilities, the fact is that it doesn’t happen amongst the swathe of other professional development deemed necessary by the department and schools. It makes it incredibly difficult for teachers (and students) in the situation you described (we have an almost identical student at school at the moment) to remain positive.

    • Would love to hear more about your time in that role:) It seems the need for more specified training will only increase from here on in. you are right… Time and financial restraints restrict growth in the area…and don’t get me wrong, I too have questioned inclusivity as the ‘best’ option over the years, a lot to be said for more funding!!

      • And sadly the criteria for funding is narrowing so much that it’s getting more and more difficult to achieve. And equally sad are the teachers that think once a child has funding, everything will be fixed!

  2. Being a father of a child with a learning difficulty, all be it not ASD, we were not able to be accepted at the private school her brother was at because ‘she would not fit in & we do not have the resources to be able to support her’ so we placed her into a state school and were lucky enough to have her in a supported class for two years. She was then ‘reevaluated’ by a departmental worker and deemed to be suitable for a ‘normal’ class (his words not mine) despite the teacher, a psychologist and her parents protesting it was inappropriate. The reason we were given was a lack of funding and more demanding children needing the place. This was several years ago now and yes the lack of funding has grown and continues to do so since then.

    Interesting when it came to high school she was accepted at the private school and we were told she would have access to teaching assistance as required and would have some modified subjects. She was to be a part of the school community and would be helped exactly the same as the ‘gifted’ students were except at the other end of the spectrum. This assistance was always available at the school from junior primary level but it came down to the Head’s decision if she wanted to utilise it and what ‘looked good for the school’. Obviously there has also been prejudice in the system for a long time and I agree it will always remain no matter what laws are enacted as there will be one way or another of avoiding or working around them.

    In relation to what can be done about teachers working with students of challenging natures. I totally agree more training is needed as that is one of the fundermentals of being a teacher and to being prepared for a situation you are to be placed into. This is no different if you were able to drive a car but then had to drive a semi trailer. Would your boss just throw you the keys and say drive that now as your new work environment? To do so, and similarly to place a teacher in the situation you describe, is a breach of occupational health and safety laws right across Australia where you have to be trained and capable of doing the task at hand. However here is one example of where the law is being gotten around for their own goals and reasons. This appears to be the case you have described and the school is in fact in breach by doing what it is doing.

    Now on a similar note, and one that may unfortunately cause some controversy based on your own views. The teachers involved in any class environment,have a right and expectation not to be placed in a situation they are not trained for or feel threatened by the situation they find themselves in. This is also a part of the relevant health and safety laws and therefore. Can we really say they are therefore wrong to not want a student with threatening actions in their class?

    I firmly believe the system and governments of all orientations have a lot to answer for in relation to the education system we now have and will continue to have into the future. Just look at Mr Pyne’s views recently published and on that basis perhaps the more assistance a student needs then the more their parents should be paying for that education? Surly we all pay our appropriate taxes and should have right of a fair and supported education for our children no matter what their needs are and to have the teachers appropriately trained to be able to offer that support as and when needed without favour or selection?

    Sorry that went on but there are a lot of sides to what you discussed and it will not unfortunately be solved any time soon however wrong it is to our children’s detriment because the governments just seem to disregard it as not being needed.

  3. Pingback: How inclusive are you? | Norah Colvin

  4. Hi there,
    Your post has given me some things to think about which I have shared on my blog in a post called ‘How inclusive are you?’ http://wp.me/p3O5Jj-jH
    This is what I have said in response to your post:
    I personally favour the idea of inclusion and believe that everyone deserves to be treated with respect and given a fair go. However in a situation such as you have described, a situation that many teachers are faced with on a regular basis, I have to admit teacher guilt in also questioning whether the regular classroom is the best place for the child.
    A child with aggressive and disruptive behaviours, who injures teachers and classmates and who disrupts the learning of other students, in my opinion, is not giving others a fair go. I do not think accepting them into the classroom is equitable. If a child with special needs is placed into a classroom that is unable to provide for those needs, then it is not any more satisfactory for that child than it is for any other participants in the classroom.
    There is already a great deal of pressure upon classroom teachers. The expectation that a general classroom teacher should be able to cater for a great diversity of special needs in addition to the range of diverse abilities and needs in a group of twenty-five to thirty or more students is, I believe, unrealistic in most current educational systems and environments. Qualifications to teach special education requires additional years of study. Teacher training, here is Queensland anyway, is already four years. How many years will it take to prepare teachers to cater for all needs that may present themselves at the classroom door?
    I agree with you that more training is required so that teachers may develop a greater understanding of differences, and develop a genuine empathy for parents of and students with those differences. Additionally education needs to receive more funding to provide trained teachers and support personnel to work with students with special needs, and enable them to be more integrated into a situation which caters to their needs as much as to the needs of others.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and getting me to think a little more about my attitudes.

    • Thank you for reading and thank you for your honest reflection. I think we have similar thoughts on this….don’t get me wrong I myself on many occasions have questioned if the generalist classroom was the right place for particular students. My problem is simply with schools who make the ‘decision’ to be inclusive and then not make the accommodations needed to allow for a successful inclusion. Just because a student with disability is ‘enrolled’ and assigned a classroom, does not equal genuine inclusion. This particular child spends less than an hour in class before being removed….you can’t help but wonder if the student would make greater gains in a specialized setting. Then there us the question of who are we really trying to include?? Is inclusion for the benefit of the child or the parent? Many parents just want their child to be ‘normal’ or a typical learner and feel sending them to a Mainstream class will part way achieve this… Sadly mistaken. Some schools also fear providing a ‘successful’ environment for students with disability will then attract more of the same, leaving the school with a label of ‘special’ … Which will then deter families seeking to enrol ship students. Having just started my masters in special ed… I can safely say I doubt very much that even on conclusion of the course that I will be an expert in Special Needs, every child is different and therefore no one course will equip all teachers to deal with these issues. When I speak of teacher training I envisage education in ‘attitude’ not content. I really look forward to reading more of your work…. What I have read just briefly, is honest and inspiring. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

      • I agree. An hour in a classroom before removal doesn’t sound very satisfactory, though sometimes it is necessary to ‘acclimatize’ one to a new situation. If this was the intention and the time was gradually increased as adjustments were made (the child to the classroom situation and the classroom to the child’s needs) then that would be acceptable.
        i can understand the feelings of people wanting their child to be ‘normal’. I am fortunate to have never been faced with having to think otherwise.
        The benefits of inclusion have been fairly clearly identified in articles that I linked to in my post. However I think there is a very small percentage that will require a greater amount of support.
        I guess my point really was, that for true equity the needs of everyone, not just one student, must be accounted for.
        I admire you for doing your masters in special ed and I wish you the best for your studies. I agree with you that attitude is what is important. I look forward to reading your thoughts about the course and what you are learning. There is always more to learn, and I enjoy sharing ideas. It’s what keeps me going. Thanks for participating in this very important discussion. 🙂

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