A few years after I started teaching, the slogan ‘Every Child Matters’ was very important; in schools where relative poverty was often present, Sure Start centres were a great success because they offered support to portions of a community that needed help. Childcare, baby massage, coffee mornings, time for twos, to name a few: centres offered services that helped a local community. When the funding was dropped and we saw the start of austerity, every child still mattered but without as much money to support a wider range of endeavours.
In pre-CoVid times, the world of education I worked in saw a relentless pursuit of enabling every child to reach their full potential academically, in school. This was good, in many ways, because it meant it didn’t matter who they were, their class, gender or cultural heritage.
However, it was also a school where bubbling beneath the surface there was definite evidence of sexism, racism and outdated attitudes towards disability. Whilst it’s important (I think) for education professionals to have a sense of humour, I see nothing funny in regularly calling students ‘retards’, however tongue-in-cheek it may seem, for not understanding, or behaving in a way that may not be deemed neurotypical. Related to this, is it any wonder that when a staff member discloses ADHD to a line manager, he is ridiculed and laughed at?
Secondly, when a member of staff is assaulted by students (grabbed by the breast to be specific) and regularly subject to abuse in the classroom, is it wrong of me to consider some of this treatment (predominantly from white teenage boys) was both sexist and racist, because she was the only black teacher, who also happened to be French and spoke with an accent? Is it any wonder that said school was in an area that saw the government Prevent initiative most concerned with a rising interest in far right ideology?
Should education professionals not practise what they preach and demonstrate support for an inclusive, diverse learner body and staff?
For all such venom, I believe the majority of staff and learners work hard to include everyone. The above scenarios hopefully represent a minority of antiquated perceptions, but the day after an NHS A&E, female, Asian doctor is told, by Matt Hancock to “Watch her tone”, merely for holding the government to account over their handling of the Coronavirus pandemic, I think I am sadly right in saying we have an awful long way to go before the words ‘equality’ and ‘Inclusion’ are fully embraced: both in society and those usually concentrated microcosms of society we call schools.
There are so many more things I could say about ‘Inclusion’: the homeschooling class divide; people from BAME backgrounds being blamed for Coronavirus whilst simultaneously being more adversely affected by the virus; at what point, if any, does including a child with additional needs in a class of thirty three become problematic for the majority and so require alternative provision; teaching values of empathy and kindness, amongst many other too… how to include the bereaved when some semblance of normality resumes.
Inclusion… we have far to go.