inclusion beyond education

I heard a wonderful story the other day and want to share it here.  Someone was talking about a ten-year old boy who is a gifted musician and sings in a Cathedral choir.  He has a beautiful voice, perfect pitch, and apparently can sight-read anything.  He also has “one of those conditions”, as a result of which he finds it hard to regulate his emotions if he feels others are treating him harshly.  Last week he was playing football with other choristers during a break from choir practice.  He got upset by something the other boys did and ran away.  The Chorus Master ran after him across the field, caught up with him and spent time with him, helping him to calm down and return to choir practice.  During the course of the afternoon this boy ran away three times, the Chorus Master running after him and helping him calm down again and again.  One of his parents also came in to help and choral evensong took place without further disruptions.

You might be wondering why I found this story wonderful.  There is certainly nothing Continue reading

Zero Project Award

award ceremony

I met Mozart on my way out of Vienna.  He greeted me at the airport, in full 18th century attire, and invited me to buy Mozart chocolate.  It pains me to admit that, having spent three days in the city where Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn and Schubert were born, worked, or died, this was the closest I got to its cultural heritage.  And yet I was leaving happy.  Beyond happy: elated!

It was the Zero Project conference that had taken me to Vienna.  Over 500 participants from over 70 countries, all wholeheartedly committed to the full inclusion of disabled children and young people.   That’s it.  Full stop.  No “as long as…” and no “but only for…”.  These were all people who understand that, in the 21st century, the expectation is for education to transform, so that schools can respond to the full diversity of learners.  There was nobody attempting to argue that children have to fulfil certain criteria in order to be allowed into their local school.  And there was nobody talking as though our differences are more important than our similarities.  How refreshingly wonderful to be among so many people who share a vision and a passion for inclusion!  Continue reading

The purpose of education

clay-modellingIt’s great to get back to basics, once in a while.  Yesterday I responded to the Education Committee’s inquiry into the purpose and quality of education in England.  The call for submissions included a link to a short video where a range of people said what they thought the purpose of education should be.  They said: to get people a good job, or basic life skills, to help people realise their full potential, to give preparation for day-to-day life, to enable critical thinking leading to informed choices, and to enable people to get a good job and be happy.  These do not seem to me to be conflicting views; they are all variations on the theme of creating the possibility of a better tomorrow.  It strikes me, however, that they are all focused on what individuals get out of a good education, with no mention of the benefit to society as a whole.  In my response, submitted on behalf of CSIE, I said that the primary function of education is to enable children and young people to become responsible and informed citizens, capable of sustaining happy and fulfilling lives for themselves and for others. Continue reading

Restarting at the end

printing machine

“Equality: Making It Happen” has now gone to print and will be available at the end of this month!  After signing off proofs yesterday I was treated to a tour round the factory.  Pictured above is the very machine where the new guide will be printed.  The weight of the responsibility to bring this project to conclusion has been immense and I am still troubled by the odd nightmare (literally – I wake up in the middle of the night having just dreamt that the folder was the wrong size and the cards wouldn’t fit, or that we sent the guide to print with a glaring typo on the front page: a guide fro schools…)  But all seems to be well and, now that this blog has restarted at the end, I look forward to sharing more stories from its production as well as, hopefully, many success stories to come.  Coming up next: the European award for which our guide has already been shortlisted!

Ups and Downs

The Downs in Bristol

The Downs in September, when this post was written

I went out for a jog today.  (Yes, this blog begins in the middle once more, this post deliberately reminiscent of my first ever post.)  I was running in a part of Bristol called “the Downs”, thinking how uplifting running is, and that perhaps an area so popular with runners should be called “the Ups”.  I was also thinking about the ups and downs of the past year, the long pause in this blog, wondering whether it needs a brief post to explain the silence.  But how would I possibly describe the ultimate stillness of bereavement tangled up in the frenzy of activity for “Equality: Making It Happen”?  I arrived back with this post all but pouring out of my fingers before I reached my laptop.  So here it will sit, this little piece, perhaps my shortest blog entry, hovering in the ether, a loving link in the chain of blog entries, easing the door open for more to come.  As a weathered multi-tasker, I am ready to hit the ground running…

The Global Majority

I was invited to a great event today, 9 October, for the launch of exciting new materials.  Trading with Schools in Bristol have introduced a collection of short films to strengthen engagement and confidence in raising the attainment of pupils from Black and Minority Ethnic communities – or pupils from the Global Majority, as the introductory video suggests.  The films are available to Bristol schools free of charge; there is a small charge for non-Bristol schools.  More information about accessing the films is available at  This resource has stemmed out of research on Ethnicity and Achievement in Bristol, carried out by Professor Leon Tikly and his team at the Graduate School of Education, University of Bristol.  More information about this project, and a link to the Making the Difference report, are available at  The launch event was held at The Mansion House in Bristol and included presentations from the local authority, the research team and a range of representatives of the Global Majority from local schools.  Central to the production of the new materials, and to the launch event, was TV presenter Sherrie Eugene-Hart. Continue reading

Making it happen

At the end of September we met again with project schools in two separate meetings in London and Bristol.  We exchanged project news, discussed materials and tried to fill in the gaps, mostly to do with additional resources that project schools have found helpful and images to liven up the resource.  We exchanged ideas about the front cover and one school volunteered artwork by its pupils, who will soon have a visiting artist run workshops in school – we all got rather excited at the prospect of seeing collaborative representations of diversity and equality and eagerly await what pupils come up with!  We also discussed piloting the new materials in project schools’ local authorities and how best to organise that. Continue reading

Peer mentoring

 I visited a secondary school in mid September and know there is not enough space here to do justice to everything I saw.

Students and staff here are keen to do more work on challenging homophobia and increasing inclusion for lesbian, gay and bisexual (LGB) people.  The Student Voice Coordinator has been working with a group of young people who want to develop the Peer Mentoring part of our new resource and who are planning to develop assemblies on the subject for younger students.  There is a strong tradition of peer mentoring in the school and the students are keen to develop materials that older students could use in their work with younger ones.  They are keen to work with local primary schools and also to think about how sixth formers in their school could work with new students in KS3.  Several students have commented that talking about LGB identities needed to become more ordinary.  As one observed “it’s important that these things are talked about more.  Even some of us were a bit nervous when we started talking about it today because it’s an unusual subject to talk about in school.”  Staff are thinking about how they can ensure that LGB people and their relationships are better represented across the curriculum.  Noting that discussions in many subject areas often include relationships and people who are – or are assumed to be – heterosexual, they want to think about how LGB people can be acknowledged without their sexuality being perceived to be an issue. Continue reading

Learning without Limits

I visited a small primary school in mid September and, even though I had been to this school before, felt uplifted by the experience.  As I write this in mid-October, I notice that this is one of a handful of schools mentioned in a recent report on leadership for outstanding primary schools, published by the National College for Teaching & Leadership ( system/uploads/attachment_data/file/ 363794/RR374A_-_Outstanding_primaries_final_report.pdf).

One of the things I’ve always loved about this school is the strong sense of community, arguably easier to achieve in a small school, but definitely not due to happenstance.  The school works hard at this, believes the community becomes stronger when everyone contributes, and enjoys an international reputation for its approach to democracy.  Here they hold mixed stage circle meetings once a week, facilitated and documented by pupils in year 6, involving all children in the school.  Held as an alternative to the more conventional school council meetings, this whole school approach gives everyone an opportunity to have their voice heard and to share in decision making. Continue reading

What did you learn today?

Last month I visited a primary school which stole my heart within the first five minutes.  Left alone in the head teacher’s office while he went off to make some coffee, everywhere I looked brought a smile to my face.  A handful of books stood on his desk within an arm’s reach of his seat and I was delighted to see Learning without Limits (Hart et al, Oxford University Press, 2004) and the Index for Inclusion (Booth & Aiscow, CSIE, 2011) among them.  The wall behind me all but spoke to me, covered as it was with a large-scale concept map which turned out to be the school development plan.  And outside the window, the footpath out of the school led to a small gate with an impressive sign next to it.  From the outside looking in, this must have been the sign with the school’s name and maybe that of the head teacher and the caretaker.  From the inside looking out, however, this was a different sign, posing a simple question to everyone as they leave: “What did you learn today?” Continue reading

Catching the tail wind

hWe started adding flesh to the bones of the new resource in July, when schools participating in this project met in London and Bristol to discuss progress.  People brought examples of work from their own school and shared resources that they have found helpful.  We also reconsidered the overall structure of the resource and, at the meeting in Bristol, decided to add socioeconomic background to the section on equality issues.  All of this has been slowly making its way on the ‘dummy’ resource that we are using to keep ideas together, collating the suggestions that are being put forward.

The title of the new resource was up for discussion again at both meetings.  The open invitation to schools had suggested the title “Give Me A Chance!” but it quickly became apparent that this reflects power relations that we were all uncomfortable with.  “It’s My School Too” was put forward as an alternative but this, too, sounds as though somebody is begging to be let in.  We tried to pinpoint the precise message we want the resource pack to convey and someone came up with “Achievement Through Equality”, which we all immediately warmed to.  This is about devoting time and effort to ensure that everyone feels safe, visible and respected.  Not only is this a moral and legal obligation, it also places pupils in a far better position to learn. Continue reading

Workshops for pupils

I had (almost) forgotten how much I enjoy being in schools to work with pupils!

Shortly before the summer break[1] I had offered a series of workshops for year 9 pupils, to share with them alternative perspectives of disability and some of the prejudices disabled people face.  I presented myself as a disabled people’s ally, knowing that this voice also has an important role to play in the journey towards full equality, and made sure I introduced as many disabled people as I could in one session.

The workshops were designed to challenge pupils’ thinking about what disability is, who is disabled and what it is that disables them.  It was fascinating to see how what might have seemed obvious to some (for example that some people are disabled by physical or sensory impairments) was explored, reconsidered and, by some, rejected (for example because a person in a wheelchair can access a building via a ramp but be disabled by a flight of stairs).  This felt like an appropriate introduction to the social model of disability (the idea that people become disabled by inflexible structures around them) as an alternative to the medical model (the idea that people are disabled by their impairments).

Pupils explored, among other things, how they might feel towards someone described by words such as ‘bright’, ‘slow’, ‘gifted’, ‘artistic’ or ‘autistic’.  In each workshop we came to the same inevitable conclusion: labels evoke different reactions and can shape our interactions in ways that are more stereotypical than meaningful.  Pupils were quick to notice that words which evoke contrasting responses may refer to the same person.

These workshops felt very timely.  In 2011 the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) had published “Hidden in Plain Sight”, a report confirming that harassment is a commonplace experience for disabled people but it is kept in place by a culture of “collective indifference”. The follow-up report “Out in the open” (EHRC, 2012) recommended that schools help all pupils to better understand disability and the prejudices disabled people face. The Children & Families Bill (2014) speaks of the culture change needed, for schools to better respond to disabled children.

CSIE developed the workshop materials in direct response to these recommendations.  I run the workshops as a bit of a taster, to see what a difference a one-off session can make.  The result was more than heartening: pupils engaged in lively discussion, asked thoughtful questions and listened with interest.  For many of them it seemed that the workshop sparked off a significant shift in their mindset.

After the workshops, the school contacted me with excellent feedback.  Pupils described their workshop as “brilliant” and “inspirational” and an experienced teacher found it extremely useful in challenging perceptions of disability, adding: “It certainly made me consider the way I think.”  For a school which is co-located with a special school for pupils with labels of profound and multiple learning difficulties (and, therefore, where pupils and staff are no strangers to disability) this level of engagement seems all the more encouraging.

Earlier this month I was thrilled to discover news and reflections from these workshops, posted on the school’s website:  The entry says that I “delivered excellent and informative disability workshops to Year 9 students”, offers a résumé of the sessions and concludes: “A very good workshop for our students.”  Thank you RGS, very pleased to hear this!


[1] This post, too, is backdated – I’ll catch up eventually!

Use another word

use another word

I return to this blog after a short break, so the first few posts are retrospective.  This is about my visit to a secondary school last term.

What had initially attracted me to this school was its co-location with a special school for pupils with labels of profound and multiple learning difficulties, as well as a powerful message on equality clearly stated in school literature.  The school’s website leaves no room for doubt: every member of the school community (students, staff, parents and carers) is expected to participate fully and all identities, backgrounds and circumstances are welcome here.  I went along intrigued to see what these statements look like when they are put into practice.

The first thing that struck me was how welcoming the school environment is.  The entrance is spacious and inviting (admittedly a newly built school has an advantage, but the large-size photos of young people having fun learning could be replicated anywhere) and reception staff friendly and helpful.  In the short while I waited to be met, I had more of a sense of being on holiday, or on a retreat, than in a busy inner-city school. Continue reading

Everyone belongs 2

What a gem this was didn’t hit me until a good half hour into my journey back.  For me it’s the teachers, he had said.  In my old school they weren’t good and I wasn’t learning, but here they explain things better and it’s easier to understand.  He was among a group of 10-year-olds in the playground whom I had asked, under a light drizzle we all happily ignored, what they like most about this school.  Two of his friends had already mentioned “the inclusive element” and said how good it is to get to know people who are different from you.  Another said he likes being with people who have different problems from you, finding out from one another (this, from a wheelchair user).  In the moment, the comment on the quality of the teaching almost passed me by.  Much later, stuck in traffic, the light-bulb moment came: of course, with such diversity of learners and learning styles in every classroom, teachers are bound to pay close attention to differentiation.  Et voila, everyone benefits! Continue reading