In the latest blog by Quirky Teacher, “If adult society is segregated, why not the classroom?”, QT puts forward an argument for exploring greater segregation in schools.
What concerns me is that the blog seems to set out an argument that suggests the existence of segregation, in this case acting upon the adults’s choice of self segregation, is an argument for systemic segregation, without acknowledging that in this case the children don’t get a choice.
This position, of advocating further segregation on the basis of finding comfort in self segregating behaviours, is at odds with promoting the value of societal diversity or at least acknowledging the diversity of society. Furthermore, how do you find people who are ‘like minded’, if that is what you want, unless you are also spending time with those who are not.
It is at odds with supporting children to be able to operate successfully in a society which is incredibly varied. The presumption seems to be that individuals within society will be more comfortable with the perpetuation of separation more broadly and that it is acceptable to avoid encouraging children to be less fearful of difference and more accepting of that which is less familiar.
And yet we are told that learning should be difficult. Perhaps some learning is more difficult than others, or maybe some teaching is.
Perhaps advocating greater segregation is a response to the capability of the profession rather than the needs of the children. Teachers do not appear to be particularly well served by their training and ongoing professional development when it comes to being able to meet the needs of children with SEND. Nor does the system of accountability work to promote inclusion with its chronologically determined attainment structures.
This is not the fault of the child. It requires us as a profession to consider how we better develop the competencies of teachers to be able to meet complex needs within mainstream classrooms. We need to develop better links between the specialist and mainstream sectors and create greater fluidity between them for children, so that special or mainstream is not seen as a binary choice.
We also should consider whether we find comfort amongst those we are familiar because of who we spend time with as a child, a reflection of school experience, but also related to finding comfort in the familiar as presented by family and community. Something which is shaped early on and then acted upon in adulthood.
For me this is an argument not for less diversity, but indeed for more. If schools were more mixed, and not just with regards to SEND, we may begin to break down some of the perceptual barriers associated with difference, a difference that in this instance is characterised by the ability to learn, but could equally have been characterised by colour, faith, sexuality or gender.
In fact I wonder how easy it would have been to write in support of greater segregation if it had been about something other than SEND, say for example EAL which brings with it its own complexities and challenges. I wonder to what extent the discrimination against those with a learning disability is seen as something lesser than racism or homophobia or sexism.
We need to consider the longer term influences on society of a reduced lack of visibility of learning disability within the classroom, influences characterised by the chronic underemployment of those with SEND (c.6% if you were wondering), characterised by lives left unlived or potential wasted.
Society is all the poorer for segregation even if, in the eyes of some, individuals are happier as a result. Ask yourself, at what cost, and is your comfort worth ‘their’ loss?
And yet I am not an advocate of universal inclusion and choose to work in a special school that by its very nature is segregationary provision that offers a highly bespoke and specialised education. And yet it is also a school which works tirelessly to ensure that our pupils are visible to society and within society, in schools, in shops, in local services and facilities, because we are aware of the risks of our children being unseen.
So whilst I agree that some pupils benefit greatly from special schools and are served very poorly by the mainstream, there are risks associated with this and risks those of us working in the sector should openly acknowledge and try to mitigate.
It is also important to note that the pupils I am referring to make up just over 1% of the pupil population, about half the number with an EHCP, around 100,000 children. A figure which, as a percentage, has remained broadly static for some time. I think 1% is probably segregation enough.