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Barriers or Allies for inclusion? View from the UK.
Gerv Leyden (the late but never forgotten), Derek Wilson, Colin Newton. (December 2001-12-11)
We are writing this as educational psychologists (Eps) based in the UK, who have strong views – which we have translated into practice – on the Ep’s role in promoting inclusion. Now this may seem odd to those who have battled for mainstream education, and have been disheartened about the role of some Eps in supporting segregated placements, but let’s stop and review the picture.
How did the association of Eps with special school placements come about? A century ago, the needs of adults who could not look after themselves independently were assessed impressionistically by medical officers on the basis of an interview. If the adult ‘failed’ the interview he or she was then ‘certified’ as ‘mentally handicapped’ and transferred to a special, closed hospital or unit. One of the items required the interviewee to describe the difference between a ‘kipper, a herring and a bloater’ (Like you, we also had to look this up before being confident about the answer).
The development of psychometric tests by psychologists in the early days of the 20th Century was therefore seen as step forward in providing a ‘scientific’ approach to assessment. IQ scores were quickly introduced as the criteria for such placements. Thus arose the professional link between Eps and the practice of IQ testing as the basis for educational programmes and placements.
Yet, in human terms, this approach to assessment is deeply flawed. Think about it. A stranger interviews your child, isolated from his/her friends, generally out of the classroom in a child unfriendly setting, using unfamiliar and largely non-educational materials and without gaining the child’s informed consent. And the purpose of the exercise? To advise on your child’s educational programme or school placement. Does this make any sense?
The criticisms of the subsequent use and abuse of IQ tests in education have been well rehearsed by parents, many educational psychologists, teachers and others, particularly during the last 25 years. Such tests do not tell us anything we need to know about planning individual educational programmes for our children, and their use in depriving children of their rights and entitlements to a full education with their peers cannot be justified nor tolerated.
Yet for the better part of a century in the UK and North America Eps and other professionals have administered tests as the basis for the allocation of children to special programmes with no regard to evidence as to whether children benefited from that practice. So much for ‘scientific’ assessment.
Well, times and practices changed, and have continued to do so. In addition to the growing reaction by many Eps in the 1970s and 1980s against the mindless use of psychometry the claims that segregated provision provides educational benefits for children have increasingly been challenged. And many Ep services have undergone radical changes as psychologists revisited and revised the values – child focused values – underpinning their practice. An emphasis on inclusion and inclusive practice now characterises most – though not yet all – Ep services in the UK.
And while in the past there has been scant support for parents seeking mainstream places for their high need child, allies are now emerging from a newer wave of Eps and service managers who are working hard within their organisations to transform their role from that of ‘handbrake’ to ‘engine’ of change for inclusion.
In Nottingham city and county, where services have played a major role in this move towards inclusion, the university course of professional training for Eps has been part of this process. The values and practice of inclusive education. underpin the training and modules of study. It is no longer any surprise to see seminars on disability awareness or workshops and research projects on person-centred planning which include ‘Circles of Friends’, MAPs and PATH.
And while we still meet the doubters, we know beyond doubt that full inclusion in not only the way forward it is also achievable. The fully inclusive school system in Hamilton, Ontario is but one example that tells us so, and the developments in Newham, here in the UK, confirm it for us. There is no one set template to follow – as educational and psychological problem solvers we have to problem solve and learn how to design our own system to fit our own circumstances.
A lesson for everybody. Yes, Eps have in the past been associated with the role of legitimising the transfer of pupils into segregated settings. But we see more and more of the evidence of change.The two major bodies representing educational psychologists in the UK, the ‘British Psychological Society’ and the ‘Association of Educational Psychologists’ have both recently signed up to support the CSIE ‘Charter for Inclusive Education’ –and this signifies the shift in professional values and attitudes.
What special contribution can Eps make as allies for inclusion? Well, we are one of the few professional groups to work at the level of the individual pupil and teacher in the classroom, whose observations can feedback up to the levels of school board and LEA planning and practice. And our contribution to policy review, evaluation of inclusive policy and practice and the in-service training of teachers and other officers indicate the potential for change that our various roles offer.
Inclusive education means change and growth – for schools, LEAs and School boards. In order to bring about change in inclusive practice Eps have had to change – and will need to keep changing – our own thinking, values and practice. For too long we have contributed as ‘Two percent’ EPs. Applying only ‘two percent’ of relevant, available psychological knowledge and research to ‘two percent’ of the pupil population, yet doing that for ‘98 percent’ of our time. Sounds like a possible win-win scenario. Parents looking for allies? Eps now looking for allies? At last we are wising up.
Gerv Leyden, Professional and Academic Tutor, Educational Psychologist (sadly deceased but NEVER forgotten)
Colin Newton, Former Principal Educational Psychologist and co-founder and current Director of ‘Inclusive Solutions: email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Derek Wilson, Former Senior Educational Psychologist and co-founder ‘Inclusive Solutions.’: email: email@example.com.