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How Might Primary Schools And Teachers Contribute To The Promotion Of A Culture In Which Diversity Is Valued And Equality Of Opportunity Is A Reality?

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Martin Luther King's speech at the civil rights march in August 1963 holds a place in history for its call Ð''for the rights of black people to be recognised by a discriminatory white America' (Thomas and Vaughan 2005, p12). The resonance that this speech has offers powerful insights into issues surrounding segregation in education. As far back as 1931 Tawney argued that discrimination of any kind is intolerable due to its effects on social life More recently there has been increasing concern, in the United Kingdom as well as in other countries, that schools are not doing enough to enable all pupils to achieve high standards. It is possible that this concern is highlighted due to the realisation that an effectively educated population is needed in order to achieve economic prosperity.

The concepts of equal opportunities and inclusion, particularly in relation to the rights of children, have received increasing attention. Endorsed by The United Nations (UN) convention on the Rights of the Child (1989); by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) Salamanca Statement (1994) and by the United Nation's call Ð''Education for All' (World Conference on Education for All, 1990), Ð''inclusion is now a world-wide movement' (Mittler, 2000, p12).

The United Kingdom government, possibly in reply to the aforementioned UN documents has sought to increase the inclusion of pupils with Special Educational Needs (SEN) into mainstream schools (DfEE 1997, 1998; DfEE/QCA 1999; DfES 2001) and to improve the provision for these pupils, whether in mainstream or special educational contexts. The push for greater inclusion was given further impetus by the passing of the Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Act (SENDA 2001) and the changes made (in the light of concerns made by OFSTED and the Audit Commission) to the SEN Code of Practice in 2002.

However, the message being given to schools from government is a mixed one: Minister Baroness Ashton stated that Ð''We [government] are committed to developing a more inclusive education system' and then went on Ð''Inclusion is not an agenda to close special schools' (Gold, 2003). So the loyalties of government are not clear. In fact the average number of children in special schools was reduced by only 0.0175 per cent between 1997 and 2001 and in addition, discrepancies between Local Education Authorities (LEA) are massive. Gold (2003) warns that, at the present rate it will be more than one hundred years before some LEAs meet the inclusion rates boasted by the London borough of Newham, a flagship in this area.

There has been inference in the past that inclusion meant bringing those outside (the Ð''special') into the privilege of mainstream, that it's primarily about a move by mainstream schools to welcome pupils with disabilities and learning difficulties; a Ð''dump and hope' approach (Corbett 2001b, p44) whereby pupils are placed into the mainstream and expected to Ð''fit in'. Rogers (1991) highlights the discriminatory message given when pupils experience Ð''integration' rather than Ð''inclusion'. He suggests that inclusive education demands that schools consider all pupils as fully belonging to the school and all its activities. In addition Corbett (2001a) reminds us that Ð''Inclusive education has often been vilified because learners have been placed in a situation in which they are unable to learn effectively'. Therefore responsibility falls upon schools to ensure that their culture is one where diversity is valued and differences celebrated.

The diversity of individual pupils includes those whose vulnerability arises from Special Educational Needs (SEN), a term which is widely used to refer to a child's disability or difficulty. In relation to the this point, a placement school presently has, in a Year two class, fifteen pupils with some form of Ð''special needs'. In addition one pupil is faced with a serious family illness. While teaching in this particular class it has been noted that this child is not seen as having Ð''special needs', even though it could be said that his emotional difficulties suggest that he actually does have additional or Ð''special' needs.

With this in mind it is noted that in placement and other familiar schools as well as on a wider scale (DfES, May 2004) teachers have revealed a lack of confidence in their own abilities to recognise and include, children with SEN. Sebba with Sachdev (1997, p75) and Dessent (1987) suggest that one of the main barriers to inclusion lies with teachers' perceptions that teaching Ð''special' children requires special expertise, equipment and training. These insecurities are also reiterated by Hart (1996) who suggests that teachers need to have a belief in themselves and Ð''tap into' professional knowledge that has previously been underused. Hart also recognises enormous scope within mainstream education to enhance the education of children with SEN through Ð''innovative thinking' but during conversations with the primary teachers mentioned previously, it was noted that some felt it was still primarily the responsibility of trained SEN teachers and SEN coordinators to ensure that Ð''additional needs' were met. With this in mind Farrell (1998) suggests that in some instances this leads to class teachers abdicating their responsibility to individuals in their class. But Mittler (2000, p9) refers to research that suggests these perceptions change once a teacher has had direct experience of teaching such children. This is reinforced by the CSIE (1995, p5) when they suggest that the Ð''white-coat' image of special needs begins to disappear as teachers realise that meeting difference is an extension of their existing skills and expertise. It seems pertinent here to recall the pupil mentioned earlier whose class teacher does not see him as having SEN but actually adapts her teaching in order for him to learn more effectively by taking into account his emotional situation.

It may then be necessary to ensure that all teachers have opportunities to be informed in relation to what seems to be the closely guarded secret that teaching pupils with individual needs can be addressed by what they have come to know as Ð''effective teaching'. After all, what is referred to as Ð''normal' within the context of education can only be so labelled because there are children who fall on both sides of this marker.

Many teachers though, have not had the aforementioned experience,

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