the ACEL ASEPA Congress on creating Inclusive Schools today I’ve heard input around inclusion from people based in the UK, in China and New Zealand as well as Australia. There were, as ever, some very quotable moments; notably Prof. Philip Garner from the Univeristy of Northamption in the UK who asked the delegates at the conference to reflect on why they are in education and why they want to create inlclusive schools. His statement was that most teachers want:
‘Children to coexist in mutual respect so that their learning is enhanced and they thrive socially and emotionally’
I don’t think there can be any arguments with that statement from any educators but most of the day involved discussion about different ways of achieving this. I was struck by the resonance between Prof Garners key note at the beginning of the day and that of Leith Comer, who spoke about the way that maori are now included within New Zealand culture in a way that benefits everyone. Prof Garner spoke about the need for cooperation not competition in the development of inclusive schooling whereas Leith Comer talked of how the project he is currently involved in; Excel Rotorua is based around collaboration and not competition across the city of rotorua. Comparing such models of collaboration, cooperation and inclusion with the more competitive models of academic achievement and comparisons of how countries perform in the OECD PISA survey discussed by governments around the world the tensions in this area are obvious and a number of speakers touched on this.
It was good to see practitioners from a number of sites presenting their stories. I gave a presentation on the ever deepening relationship between Adelaide West Special Education Centre and Ocean View College. The best part of this was the video of students from the two sites interacting and taking about their experiences. I do not have parent consent to share thse videos online but have attached the presentation without pictures. ACELASEPA L Fenech I only had a fifteen minute time slot and therefore had to rush through many of the slides I had prepared from surveys of staff, parents and students. You may like to read this in more detail at your leisure. It ws good to have ongoing discussions with some people who came to my session about how social interaction between students from mainstream schools and those for whom their learning needs requires a curriculum adjusted significantly to meet theirindividual needs. Students from Adelaide West have high needs in a range of areas that mean that our special setting is the best educational placement for them. However, interaction and the chance to develop friendships with their peers from Ocean View offers unique and unreplaceable play and language opportunities. The whole community benefits from these interactions and I am honoured to have played a part in this relationship.
A session that I really enjoyed was that presented by Carolyn Blunden, principal of Warakirri College Her description of the way that students at Warakirri, who had been ‘rejected’ by many other educational establishments, are given a sense of success and independence was fascinating and inspirational. Warakirri provide opportunities for personalised learning and a more adult learning focus for teenagers who may otherwise be at risk of never receiving any recognised educational qualifications.
This Congress is the first on inclusive schools presented by ACEL and ASEPA and attendance was less than one would hope for given the importance of inclusion for so many students; be it because of their race, ability, culture, sexual orientaiton etc. I hope that this does not mean this is a one-off event as there were so much valuable information presented today. I hope tomorrow is as good!