Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Beware of inclusion advocates bearing gifts of simplicity

On March 27th the inclusion research cluster (a group to which I belong) at the School of Education in the University of Southampton organised a one-day conference on Inclusion Research. The majority of the day was given over to our PhD students who gave presentations on their research. I was there to support two of my students, Jane Lapraik and George Roberts. Jane spoke of her plans to research the strategies that dyslexic learners at university use to revise for unseen exams. George gave an overview of his research into the role that a community IT centre plays in the lives of adult and continuing learners.

The day was kick started by a powerful talk from Professor Len Barton, an influential and key figure in inclusion research- and someone who I had always wanted to hear speak. Below are my notes from his powerful and engaging talk (not complete in the sense of representing a full picture of what Len said) Although Len is talking primarily about schools, I believe that many parallels can be drawn in the contexts in which I work: universities, adults with learning disabilties and digital inclusion. In the context of a digital inclusion forum I am convening for the TLRP research programme, I was particularly struck by two challenges that Len raised: the challenge to accept that digital inclusion is more complex than simply providing a box of technology (access) and the challenge to reconceptualise digital inclusion as a process as much as an outcome.

Len started off by saying: " Beware of those who bear gifts of simplicity"- inclusion is complex, it involves more than resource issues and there are no quick fixes.

Inclusion is underpinned by an informed conviction that something is wrong and needs urgent serious intervention and challenge.

Focusing exclusively on a school or a child is unhelpful if we view education in a social vacuum.

Good intentions, charity, ad-hoc interventions are inadequate to address the profundity of discrimination, therefore inclusion needs to be understood as a political issue. Inclusion is about the nature of decision-making: who is in, who is out, who gets what, how, why and what are the consequences?

Inclusion is political because it raises the important question, inclusion into what?

Inclusion requires a creative partnership between government, schools, and parents; but we need to be clearer about what schools cannot be expected to do- they cannot meet the challenges of inclusion alone.

If we are going to argue for inclusion, then we need zero tolerance to all forms of exclusion. We need "up in your face" activity against all forms of exclusion- this is not negative, it is essential for change.

Exlcusion does not have a single dimension, it is multi-faceted.

There is no such thing as an inclusive school; there are schools that show evidence of inclusive practice, but in those same schools exclusionary practice will exist. Inclusion and exclusion co-exists together.

we need transformative change- that involves more than attitudes, it is systemic.

Beware advocates that maintain inclusion is about placement or resources, it is about equity.

Beware advocates that emphasise exciting prospects without recognising that it is difficult.

Beware advocates who emphasise the importance of indiviudals without seeking to connect that to the wider social context.

Inclusion is not just about participationl, it is about continued participation.

Inclsuive education is not an end in itself, it is a means to and end.

Legislation is not sufficient, but it is a necessary factor in the process of change.

Change is challenging, it requires creative, persistent hard work.

Being inclsuive involves giving priority to challenging and important questions e.g What does inclusive education mean to participants in different contexts? What does change mean and involve? What constitutes exclusion in particular contexts?

In exploring voice we need to focus on context, content and purpose, consequences of indiviudals and society.

Researchers need a critical self awareness- it is essential that we consider the extent to which research itself can be part of barriers to inclusion.

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