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Equality and inclusion in the classroom

Growing up in an apparently homogenous area, I didn’t really appreciate the notion of diversity until my first placement on my PGCE. The first group I taught was from year 8, and so diverse in culture, faith, ethnicity and ability, that I felt utterly inadequate when it came to ensuring that each had equal access to the learning on offer.

It was a lesson, however, that stayed with me. And that memory still provokes the first question I ask myself before meeting any group. How will my students know that I strive for equality and inclusion in the classroom?

Nancy Gedge, consultant teacher for the Driver Youth Trust, and author of Inclusion for Primary School Teachers, offers sound advice for new teachers of any phase, on keeping a focus on equality and inclusion. She suggests that, “the most important thing for any NQT is to get to know all of the children in the class, and that means teaching them, including those we might perceive as different to ourselves, be that because of SEND, or background. It’s terribly easy to let someone you think of as more experienced and knowledgeable than you are take over, but if you do that, you will be limiting both your and their learning opportunities.”

Nancy also explains the limitations and consequences of labels. “Labels for children with extra learning needs can have all sorts of unexpected effects, one of which is the danger that you end up teaching the label instead of the child.  A label of need points you in the general direction, but after that, you almost need to ignore it, so that it doesn’t get in the way of getting to know the child.”

Ideas for inclusion

There is no doubt that time spent building relationships with the children you teach will be time well spent, and will help in the creation of strategies and techniques that could make learning more accessible for all. Other suggestions include:

Expectations: Being crystal clear about your expectations of the way that children will treat each other and the adults in your school. Fairness must prevail and we should feel confident about calling out negative and stereotypical attitudes.

Resources: Look very carefully at the resources you are using. What messages do they convey? Would children pick up ideas about “normality” from them that are too narrow to be representative of society? Promote multiculturalism; it’s an accurate reflection of the world in which we live.

Language: Be extremely careful about the language you use when teaching. Know the children in your class and their backgrounds.

Participation: Be aware of participation rates in your classroom. Equal participation is a goal, but that will invariably mean ensuring, as far as possible, equality of opportunity in your classroom.

Inclusion: I was told recently about a school doing a special celebration for “dads”. Grandads could be included too if necessary. While the intention may not be to exclude non-nuclear family set-ups, or children who are bereaved, there are clearly other more inclusive ways of involving the families of the children we teach.

Our ultimate aim as teachers must surely be to help each child to reach full potential and to be an active, contributing member of his, her or their community. We can help to do that through being mindful of equality and diversity, and through our commitment to the individual as well as the class as a whole.

Find out more

You can find Nancy Gedge on Twitter. Nancy is also a consultant teacher at the Driver Youth Trust and blogs at www.notsoordinarydiary.wordpress.com.

3 thoughts on “Equality and inclusion in the classroom

  1. I think that if we can help students feel welcomed, loved and appreciated for the effort they make no matter how big or how small each day to improve themselves and to lend a hand to those in need is the best way to help them feel included. I stopped teaching for about a two years to explore other options, I will go back this summer with a fresh outlook and a more positive mindset.

  2. The question that is never or rarely asked, is inclusion at what cost? What about children in the class who are there to & want to learn and have to put up with the disruptive behaviour of an unruly child who constantly makes it difficult for the teacher to maintain control.

    Then we have the misnomer that differentiation is possible & that it is crucial, well I am afraid this is another misleading concept and is practicably impossible to cater for all abilities. The same goes for different learning styles and there is no evidence/valid research whatsoever to suggest adapting classroom teaching to different learning styles makes any difference to pupil’s learning. Unfortunately inclusive education like ‘inclusive art’ or ‘inclusive sport’ has no virtue other than providing no challenge. The very demand for inclusion represents a call to lower the standards & integrity of a school.

    There is an excellent peer reviewed and empirically researched paper entitled ‘The Cultural Myths & Realities of Teaching & Learning’ by Graham Nutthall.

  3. Equality and inclusion can be simple to achieve . Equality means treating a person with, respect, understanding of differences and equal opportunities so this means every child in the class. If a child is appreciated for their own talents ,skills and the sharing of differences is encouraged then they will feel equally treated and included within the class.

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