Inclusive Education FOR Educators? The State of Play for EDI In Education Part 1: Guest Blog by Rebecca Garside
The 1997 Green Paper: Excellence For All Children Meeting Special Educational Needs brought the notion of “inclusion” for children with different needs under the microscope. The SEN And Disability Act (SENDA) 2001 strengthened this idea and pushed for children who had previously been segregated in special schools to be accommodated in mainstream settings. Over the years the subject of “inclusion” and exactly what is meant by that has warped and bent and morphed – a bit like the ominous liquid metal robot in Terminator 2 (and, not to panic you but, I believe that robot is on the scientific precipice of actual existence…)
Anyway, off you go ADHD braintrain…back on point: The promotion of “inclusion” for the children in our system, in whatever form you interpret it to be, has been an educational priority for a significant period of time and the failures/successes of the system are argued about at infinitum – but how “inclusive” is the system for the actual Educators working within it who don’t “fit in the box” either? Is the problem wider spread than the children we are struggling to support? Could the problem actually be much simpler than it has become?…
Back in March, Catrina Lowri from Neuroteachers LTD asked me to help admin a new Facebook group called “Neurodivergent Teachers Network”. As the join requests started pinging and the posts started appearing, it was strikingly obvious to me that I wasn’t the only neurodivergent educator who had struggled with being decidedly un-neurotypical in a system where “inclusive practice” is supposed to be “normal practice”. I have a 23 year long career working with children who perceive and process the world in entirely different ways. Children who, over and over again, tell me they have never felt like they “fit”. They say things like, “I was just too different” or “they didn’t understand me”, “nobody wanted to play with me”, “I didn’t fit in”, “I’m stupid, I’m just stupid – the things that
were easy for them, I just couldn’t do” (this one was from an 8yo who actually found the academics easy but who couldn’t navigate the sensory and social aspects of school life at all). I’ve been a carer, respite worker, TA, Teacher, SENCO and Senior Leader.
I am also ADHD and a mother of two neurodivergent children. So joining a community of educators who were saying all the things I had been feeling for so long was like breathing out for the first time in 23 years.
I spoke with Catrina and decided to create a questionnaire for our fellow educators in the group. I wanted to find out exactly how they felt the system was working for them. I thought I knew how the responses would stack up, but there were a couple of surprises…
Of the identities of the 21 respondents (which allowed for multiple selections as comorbidity is common):
– ADHD was the main one (57%)
– Autistic came in close second (48%)
– Dyslexia was next (29%)
– Auditory processing disorder (24%)
– Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and PDA (currently labelled “Pathological
Demand Avoidance” but preferably would be termed “Pervasive
Desire for Autonomy”) all came in at (10%) each
– Sensory Processing Disorder (5%)
Surprisingly, when it came to length of service in Education:
– 48% of respondents had worked in schools for over 15 years
– 19% had actually sustained their career more than 20 years
– 24% soldiering on between 5 and 10 years so far
– 15% under 3 years and
– 10% in their first year (aka – the Baptism of Fire)
Of the various settings the respondents had gained experience in across
– Mainstream secondary was most common (48%)
– Followed by Mainstream Primary (43%)
– Alternative provision came in third (33%) – I found this one
– EYFS next (29%)
– Post 16 (24%)
– Special Schools (19%)
– Tertiary Education (14%)
– PRU (5%)
The participants were then asked to score how they felt their employers understood their needs as a neurodivergent educator where 1 was “not at all” and 5 was “very much so”. I was very much unsurprised to see that “not at all” was most popular with (57%); followed by “very little” (38%) and then “some” (5%). 0% was scored by both “a fair amount” and “good understanding” combined.
So, despite there having been this huge drive on inclusive practice and understanding the varying needs of children in schools, 95% of our neurodivergent educator respondents felt their schools and settings had very little to no understanding of their needs at all and the remaining 5% felt there was just some acknowledgement and awareness. When asked how they felt schools and settings understood the varying profiles of people with the same diagnoses and differing profiles, this again scored very poorly: Again 4 (“fair understanding”)and 5 (“good understanding”) came in at 0% with no votes at all; this time 2 (“minimal understanding”) marginally beat 1 (“no understanding at all”) by coming in with 43% of the votes against 38%; 19% thought there was “some understanding”. Again, this is fairly disconcerting for a reflection of the time and resources spent on SEND over the years and the drive for EDI in
When asked if our neurospicy educators felt there were supports/adjustments/accessibility arrangements in place to support them
to be effective in their roles: 62% said “not at all”; 29% said “very little”; 5% said “some” and another 5% said “a fair amount”. Nobody felt this was good. When asked about the support of their colleagues: 62% said they felt “very little to no support” from their peers; 19% said there was “some support”; 14% said “fair support” and just 5% said they felt “well supported” by their team.
Next, I asked if they mask their neurodivergency at work to get by (“Masking” is a term used to describe the process of covering up the true self in order to try and blend in and go unnoticed). The scoring system registered 1 as “never needing to mask – I can be myself at all times” and 5 as “masking 100% of the time”: 72% of participants said they mask either the whole time or the majority of it; 24% said they felt the need to mask 50% or more of the time they were at work; 5% said they felt they could “unmask” at times but nobody felt they could be themselves consistently while at work.
When it came to the question about how comfortable they felt discussing their neurodivergency, things were marginally more promising: 38% sat in the middle and said they felt neither particularly comfortable nor uncomfortable; 36% said they felt either not at all comfortable or only slightly comfortable. 10% said they felt mostly comfortable and 10% said they were very comfortable discussing it.
The question about how sustainable they felt their careers in education were got very mixed results: 24% said not at all; 29% very unlikely to remain in education and 19% sat on the fence; 14% said they felt they could continue and another 14% said they felt they would definitely stay long-term. The last question was a biggy – a real POW! Question and one that was most important to me: What did they feel would have the biggest positive impact for them when it came to support? Overwhelmingly, the respondents chose options that were about mindset and ethos over costly, tangible supports: 52% said merely having a supportive and understanding leadership team would have the single biggest positive impact on their working lives as a neurodivergent staff
member in education; a further 33% chose the option of schools educating all children for neurodiversity and having an ethos of open conversations surrounding the subject; 10% then chose acceptance and understanding from their colleagues and only 5% chose physical/tangible supports. A staggering 95% of votes feel all that is needed is simply normalising of neurodiversity and an ethos of understanding, respect and validation. That is the monstrous firecracker at the end of the display for me – you know the
one that lights up the sky and makes everyone watching squint? BOOM! It has been my sole professional purpose to create accessible systems and educate staff in every school about the range of needs their learners may present and the changes we can make to remove as many of the barriers they face as possible. I am passionate about it. It has been my innermost drive since I was 17 years old. It has been hard. Hard to sway common practices in a system built on behaviourism. Hard to change mindsets and perceptions of “behaviour” in adults raised in a world which has valued compliance. But it has been harder to work effectively struggling with my own challenges in a system which I don’t feel has any room for my authentic self. I don’t believe for a second I would have risen up to fulfil my Senior Leader roles in curriculum, teaching and learning improvement and inclusive practice had I not spent my entire working time masking and trying to ensure nobody found out I am ADHD myself. I know many teachers and educators across the system have felt strongly for a long time there is this attitude of “give everything and just get it done”.
How sad it is the education system as a whole seems to have such little room for accepting and considering the staff, they have with similar challenges faced by the students posing the biggest conundrums for them right now. How powerful could it be for the children as well as the staff if those three, completely FREE measures were put into place?
1. Leadership teams who are supportive of neurodivergency
2. Educating the children for neurodiversity and having an ethos of open conversations about it
3. Acceptance and understanding from teachers and other school staff
How complicated is it really to just celebrate and validate everyone for exactly who they are? Because that is the real magic of true inclusion.