The inclusion debate is now well and truly up and running. I am delighted that contributors are airing their views and sharing their experiences but I am struck with the thought that we are short on evidence. We need evidence which firms up our views or challenges us to rethink.
I read physics at university and am well used to drawing conclusions based on the evidence available. “When the facts change I change my mind” as Keynes never actually said. Given all of that studying and training my opinions are shaped and formed by the evidence available. If it can be shown that students with learning difficulties generally make better progress, as yet undefined, in mainstream schools than in special schools then it’s time for me to change my mind. The position of most of us in this debate is heavy on ideology, opinion, anecdote and experience and short on evidence.
“It must be true that…” “It’s blindingly obvious that….” “Common sense tells you that…..” never got me anywhere when studying special relativity or quantum mechanics so I am hesitant to pronounce in such bold terms on inclusion.
It has been stated by at least one colleague that segregation (their word) of students into special schools is a human rights violation. A bit heavy for me, but you may have a general preference for students with special educational needs to be educated in mainstream schools because it must be better, again as yet undefined, for them to be with their peers.
As stated in an earlier blog the school system in this country segregates all the time with very little fuss, grammars and special schools notwithstanding.
When and how did we decide to arrange the primary/secondary system in to the way it is now? Randomised controlled trial? I doubt it. A combination of the need for subject specialised teaching at some point and the unwillingness of 30 soon-to-be-teenagers to remain in the same room all day long may well be the reason. Did we test it extensively, gather evidence and decide that 11 was the optimum age to radically change the way our children are educated? Again, I doubt it. Someone, somewhere tinkered and we ended up with some regional middle school systems too. In the future will we test this, respond to the evidence and change our entire schooling system based on the results? No.
When did we decide that it was sensible to let organisations that have nothing to do with educating children, namely churches, to run some of our schools? Randomised controlled trial? I doubt it. We are content to let the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church run a large number of schools in this country. Is there evidence that shows that educating children in groups based largely on the religion of their parents is more effective than the mixed gender mainstream model? If so, then why are we not doing this all over the country? If you object to segregation based on special need then why do you not object to segregation by parental religion?
The same questions stand for gender. If segregation by gender is more effective then surely we are hindering children’s progress by maintaining a mixed gender model. Where is the evidence? If you object to segregation based on special need then why do you not object to segregation by gender when they are educated away from 50% of their peers? My hunch is that there is no evidence that either model is more effective and that it boils down to choice. Some people prefer to have their child(ren) educated without the presence of the opposite sex. We’ve inherited this and will never remove single gender schools as it’s politically impossible to achieve.
There is more evidence available on the relative effectiveness, or otherwise, of grammars. This is the example that challenges my position most. My intuitive position is that grammar schools inhibit social mobility and maintain class divide. I am, though, as stated earlier, prepared to change my view in light of evidence that disproves my position. I have yet to see this but have seen evidence that supports my view. My in-built tendency to remember and be attracted to evidence that backs my own position must be noted.
So, with the current increase in research in education I make a call for evidence. Is there evidence out there that shows that students with learning difficulties make better progress/have better outcomes/lead better lives when educated in special schools than in mainstream schools? Or the other way round? In the UK? Abroad? Given the difficulties in coming to agreed definitions for “better progress”, “have better outcomes” or “lead better lives” I suspect it is a task fraught with difficulties and incomplete and contaminated data. I look forward to reading any papers that are out there.