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Inspiration Trust's inclusion journey

Published on 01/11/19

Colin Diamond, Trustee for the Inspiration Trust, speaks of the journey taken by the Trust to ensure inclusion is a key factor within it's schools

When Dame Rachel de Souza, CEO Inspiration MAT, asked whether I might be interested in becoming a trustee at Inspiration, I wasn’t sure if she had got the wrong number. On the face of it, I couldn’t see what added value I might bring to the MAT. The website proclaimed its commitment to academic excellence, the knowledge rich curriculum, sports and the arts but there was no mention of inclusion. The professional development opportunities looked fine for orthodox subject leaders but nothing was visible for SENDCOs. And it all appeared very white with few BAME role model students or colleagues visible. If I were the parent of a child with additional needs, Inspiration wasn’t sending out messages of love exactly. But no, Dame Rachel did have the right number. She was adamant that Inspiration was serious about tackling inclusion (and, therefore, inevitably exclusion) and would aim to become a beacon for its practice and willing to share its approach with other MATs.

One year later, now installed as lead trustee for inclusion, I am pleased with progress to date. The Trust Board agreed to commission an external review of its inclusion policy and practice. Inspiration’s performance across SEND, attendance, off rolling and exclusions was compared, where possible, with the national and local data. Whilst pupils with SEND were making good progress in many cases, major issues were revealed in relation to attendance and exclusions. Overall, Inspiration was sore thumbing compared with local authority and national data – in some cases significantly so. Individual academies and free schools were visited by the external reviewer and heads invited to discuss the outcomes with Dame Rachel, improvement plans to be produced where needed. The board has taken on the full recommendations.  An Inclusion Lead has been appointed to work with the Standards Director. The inclusion scorecard is now reviewed at every trust board meeting and sits alongside attainment, progress and predictions data. And at October half-term the annual Inspiration conference adopted inclusion as its theme. Dame Rachel was utterly clear in her message to staff: inclusion is now a priority and performance must improve. Resources will be made available where there are gaps in provision beyond what MATs conventionally offer.

So what does this actually mean for a trust that has a powerful track record of turning around chronically underperforming schools in an area of England that is amongst the lowest performing nationally? Many MAT leaders will recognise the challenges in taking on schools with a low bar on behaviour and historically poor aspiration for the communities they serve. Radical measures can be required to get those new academies into shape for the first couple of years. But what happens then? How do those academies become truly inclusive for the long-term? At the conference, I used a favourite UNESCO definition to shape up the debate. At its core, this is about ensuring everyone’s needs are met. This can be at odds with the position a new academy finds itself in to make sure that the majority’s needs are met in the first place. Sometimes that can mean forms of internal or external exclusion. But as Dame Rachel reminded colleagues at conference , if such practice persists once things are in steady state, something is wrong.

 

Inclusive Education
'Inclusive education is seen as a process of addressing and responding to the diversity of needs of all learners through increasing participation in learning, cultures and communities, and reducing exclusion from education and from within education.

Within an inclusive education approach, learning environments are fostered where individual needs are met and every student has an opportunity to succeed'
Clementina Acedo Director
UNESCO 48th International Conference 2008

Moving beyond the definition, what does an inclusive school look like? I identified four key factors that contribute symbiotically to creating an inclusive culture. They are:

  • children, pupils and students: feeling valued and succeeding
  • their families and communities: feeling valued and working in partnership
  • local support agencies: recognising their contribution and working the symbiosis
  • staff: well-being nurtured and contribution recognised

There are no quick fixes here. Investment is required in the pupils, their families, the wider agency wrap around services and, of course, staff. There is no balance or harmony if any of these elements is neglected. Building staff’s confidence to become more inclusive is critical. Exhortations based on what happens in other schools that are said to be wonderfully inclusive are of strictly limited value. Values-led leadership at trust and school level set the tone and a good supply of local high quality CPD and expertise make the difference.

From here, the trust board will continue to back its schools on the inclusion journey and further examine some of the gaps in local provision such as alternative provision or access to CAMHS. Progress will be monitored at trust level so there is a balanced scorecard that includes, in equal measure, attainment and inclusion indicators. A few observers have raised concerns that increasing inclusion implies accepting poor behaviour from pupils: no, there is no trade off here. Real inclusion improves behaviour in most situations by schools adopting and then adapting approaches that engage the pupils in everything good about learning. There are hundreds of schools in socially challenged areas that have the highest standards of behaviour coupled to strong outcomes and destinations for their pupils. There has been huge structural change in the English education system since the Academies Act 2010. MATs are here to stay. So it is vital that MATs are truly inclusive for the benefit of the pupils and communities they serve. At national level, academy policy has invariably concentrated on structural reform, governance, raising standards and safeguarding. Inclusion is compartmentalised into the SEND reforms box arising from the Children and Families Act 2014 and wrestling with the rising costs of provision. We now need a connection between these silo elements of policy so that standards and inclusion are not seen as separate or mutually exclusive. The Inspiration MAT is now modelling that synthesis of policy and practice.

Perhaps Dame Rachel did dial the wrong number, but there can be no doubt she’s making the right call.

Dame Rachel de Souza, Chief Executive