October 03, 2005

The importance of inclusive education

Continuing the beta chapters of my current research piece on giving more opportunity for able pupils to engage in higher order thinking through the use of social software. Comments welcome.

This chapter shows the incluysive background in Scottish classrooms and how this can be used to actively support gifted pupils.

2.2 The importance of inclusive education in Scotland
2.2.1 Inclusion and the role of setting and extraction

It would be easy to provide guidance on the teaching of gifted children in classes set by ability; much work has been done in this area with several schools concentrating on the implementation of “gifted and talented” policies and practice (for example, St Paul’s High School, Glasgow, where improvement in results as a consequence of a streaming policy has been substantial (Munro 2003) though the origin and effects of external factors have led to these figures being disputed.) But inclusion of all pupils of the same age in the same class at school is a key policy of the Scottish education system and schools are now claiming that the mixed ability inclusive classrooms are leading to great success in the classroom (Rothesay Academy experienced a rise from 9% to 45% in the number of pupils who gained five or more Standard grade Credit awards in the space of one year, thanks to efforts made in mixed ability class organisation.). There are regular legislative reminders to the importance of providing access to a suitably challenging educational experience for all (SOED, 1994; SOEID, 1999; SE, 2001; SEED, 2002; SEED, 2003).

However, there are inevitably shortcomings in the way inclusion is handled in different areas. Smith and Sutherland (2003) claim that teachers often spend more time with struggling pupils under the belief that able pupils will progress on their own. McMichael (1998) claims that this belief is not the reality, that these pupils have been shown frequently to underachieve and to find their school years frustrating and even debilitating. Such experiences have been publicly recorded as the reason for the move of St Paul’s High School Glasgow to introduce setting. Sutherland (2005) backs this up, noticing that while structures, procedures, extra staffing and funding for teacher training are in place for less able pupils, there is little or no evidence of the same importance being given to the education of able pupils. Policy has also been interpreted in a “downward” fashion: the aforementioned apparent contradictions between inclusion and pushing for higher standards led to misunderstandings and confusion over the term “entitlement to Modern Foreign Languages” (SEED, 2005) of all students. Interpreting this in the atypically downwards manner to which they had become accustomed, LEAs, Head Teachers and even Modern Languages teachers interpreted this highly positive statement (i.e. all students should be encouraged and given the right to learn a foreign language ) in a negative way: remove atypically poor children from Modern Languages, and set a trend for ‘opting out’, rather than encouraging “average” and atypically talented children to pursue their language learning with more vigour, for longer and to a higher standard than before.

Other possibilities for inclusion of the gifted have relied on comparisons with the areas of sports or music. One such example is Freeman’s Sports Approach (Freeman, 2000), where students make the choice to take extra provision to improve skills. There is, however, no entrance examination to determine if they should be able to cope with the demands of the work. Facilities are open to all and not just those pre-selected by educators through summative assessment or stereotypical views of ‘gifted-ness’. Such an approach has been used successfully in the educational world of music and sport, with selection taking place over time (moving from the ‘B’ orchestra to the ‘A’ orchestra, from the second team to the first team), but with provision for all those who wish to be included in the activity. The Partners in Excellence project is the closest example to this approach that can be found in a Scottish modern foreign languages setting. Pupils opt in to take part in all the activities, including immersion visits and, in the longer term, the popular Virtual Learning Environment. Many pupils who would not have been motivated to learn languages claim much higher motivation having taken part in the project, and the numbers taking foreign languages in the upper secondary school have increased year-on-year (Johnstone et al., 2004).

However, despite propositions like these, research into the concept of inclusion and its multiple ways of being applied is relatively young, with little evidence on the success or otherwise of the policy in regular classrooms in Scotland. So it has proven difficult thus far to persuade educators to look at adapting their practice to better accommodate the inclusive classroom (Smith, 2005).

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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