Making inclusion count against persistent disadvantage

Overcoming barriers to learning caused by multiple disadvantages is a matter of inviting everyone into the school family, says Jill Wright

Overcoming barriers to learning caused by multiple disadvantages is a matter of inviting everyone into the school family, says Jill Wright

22 Nov 2021, 5:00

Our school sits in an area of significant social and economic disadvantage (in the bottom per cent of deprived areas nationally). There are high levels of crime, a low number of working households, a high prevalence of drug and alcohol misuse and a high level of medical needs. These circumstances affect families, and therefore the lives of our children. To secure their progress, we must acknowledge these persistent barriers of disadvantage and vulnerability.

Our percentage of pupils with SEN support is well above the national average. Of course, some of our children do move from mainstream to specialist settings, so the additional £2.6 billion in government spending to create additional places for children with significant additional needs is welcome news. However, as a mainstream school it is imperative that we seek to develop our practice to ensure all children in our setting can succeed.

For us, it’s a question of culture. We are committed to providing each individual child with appropriate access to learning, and commitment has to be evident from the governors to teachers, and from support staff to families. Everyone must feel part of their ‘Whitefield family’.

Our behaviour policy is based on zones of regulation, which aims to develop self-regulation from entry to school at age three. This approach to managing behaviour is taught as part of our curriculum and is applied consistently across the school. Alongside our resilience programme and a digital stress-management system, we have seen a huge impact on our children’s ability to self-regulate and therefore access learning. Our next step is to work to build on that with a programme for parents and carers.

Of no less importance, we see growing resilience in our families too

This approach works alongside our commitment to attachment- and trauma-sensitive practice. All our staff receive training and are skilled in supporting children in relation to these areas. This shared understanding of behaviour as communication and a consistent approach to working with the children is fundamental to creating a safe, secure space where learning can happen and learners can flourish.

In essence, at Whitefield all teachers are teachers of SEND, and all staff have an excellent understanding of children’s individual needs. Our SENCO produces a Pyramids of Need document for each class to identify the needs of all learners. These pyramids are the basis of all our conversations regarding the needs of individual children and provide a shared understanding among staff.

That understanding goes on to underpin inclusive practices designed to enable all children to integrate as much as possible. We use visual timetables. Our classrooms are clear, ordered and consistent from class to class to support neurodiverse learners. Sensory corridors and spaces add to that inclusive environment. Our consistency offers predictability and safety, and reduces cognitive load and anxiety. To that end, we have also increased playtime to half an hour daily, with a focus on social communication skills and self-regulation, and embedded open-ended ‘loose parts play’ stimuli.

But we know it can’t all happen at school. Our influence must reach our communities, too, to have lasting impact. That’s why we work hard to develop strong, lasting partnerships with parents and carers. Sometimes that means offering support, sometimes acting as a critical friend. Sometimes celebrating and sometimes sharing loss. Our family liaison and safeguarding officer works very closely to offer that support, and our senior leaders and SENCO make themselves as accessible to families as possible.

We try to walk alongside families who have children with additional needs, for example by co-producing support plans. Resulting from this work, we see the positive impact on attendance. Less measurably perhaps, but of no less importance, we see growing resilience in our families too.

Removing barriers to learning is a complex and ever-developing task. Research and practice are continually evolving, and it requires school leaders to continually overcome barriers themselves to drive the ethos of inclusion.

To paraphrase Thais Compoint, inclusive leadership is not a destination but a journey. Few journeys are more rewarding.

Whitefield Primary School won the nasen Award for Primary Provision of the year.

For further information on the awards visit:

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