This school development plan focuses on enabling the effective inclusion of children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) based on an investigation into the most significant aspects of the Steiner School learning environment. The learning environment was divided into four categories for examination; ‘Physical Factors’, ‘Relationship Factors’, ‘Structures and Expectations’, and ‘Language and Communication Factors’ (DfES, 2005). An interpretative approach was taken to collect qualitative data using marginal participant observations and a semi-structured interview. The results indicate that the relationship factor was most significant in supporting inclusion, as it also strengthened the community into which the children are included.
School development plan with critical analysis and evaluation (500 words approx)
‘Education is a basic human right and the foundation for a more just society’ (Ainscow et al. 2006:2). All children, including those with Special Educational Needs (SEN) must therefore have access to this basic human right and for this to occur inclusion is vital. For the purpose of this research the definition of SEN is the one which the Steiner School currently use:
‘A pupil has Special Educational Needs if they have additional needs which impact on their learning and necessitates that special educational provision to be made for them’ (Steiner School SEN policy, 2010:1).
The Ofsted SEN and Disability Review (2010) ‘found that just over one in five pupils – 1.7 million school-age children in England – are identified as having special educational needs’ (Gillie, 2010:7). This highlights why the issue of inclusion of learners with SEN is a matter which requires urgent attention as they represent such a significant proportion of society (Salt Review, 2010:3).
In order to carry out the necessary research for an effective development plan, it was decided to focus on a school that approached inclusion differently (Baker & Zigmond, 1995). Rather than look at UK state schools this research was conducted around Steiner Schools which exist worldwide, and offer an alternative to mainstream schooling, based on Rudolf Steiner’s educational philosophy (Woods, et al, 2005:4). Although inclusion relates to all pupils there was a specific focus on those children with SEN. It is believed by Lipsky & Gartner (1996:763) that the purpose of inclusion is ‘both to ensure the child’s success – academic, behavioural and social – and to prepare the child to participate as a full and contributing member of society’. Therefore without inclusion, children with SEN may not have access to opportunities to learn and to achieve. Over time, the more aware practitioners have become of the importance of inclusion, the more educational policies and practices have developed to reflect it.
This outline for the development of inclusion in the Steiner school has been formed largely on the results of the case study conducted during the school visit. These results supported research which suggests that the most significant factor of the learning environment in supporting the inclusion of children with SEN is the relationship factor (Black & Hawkins, et al, 2008:13). Relationships are formed and supported in the Steiner School, these not only support inclusion but also strengthen the community into which the children are included.
The ongoing commitment to this style of community integration is therefore essential for the continuing wellbeing of the children involved. Having a strong sense of community means that when inclusion is effectively supported children with SEN are included into a stable, knowledgeable, and long lasting environment. The observation also pointed out many more important issues that should be addressed on a larger scale. Lack of funding meant that some factors of the learning environment did not support inclusion as much as the school would have liked, and it could be that because interpersonal relationships do not need funding to be formed and developed they are more significant in supporting inclusion.
Critiques of relevant readings and other research which is linked to the SDP
In 1973 Margaret Thatcher proposed a review of ‘educational provision in England, Scotland and Wales for children and young people handicapped by disabilities’ (Warnock, 1978:1). At the time, the Medical Model of Disability was used and it was believed that the disability itself was the problem not the barriers that society created. Mary Warnock was on the committee for the review, and her report pioneered the notion of inclusion of children with SEN in schools by denouncing their segregation. This was seen as a radical report, as it was one of the first steps to including children with SEN into mainstream schools and marked the move away from the Medical Model of Disability to the Social Model of Disability.
Practitioners who use the Social Model of Disability now focus on removing the barriers to learning that society creates so that all children have equal access to education. The 1990 World Conference on Education for All reaffirmed this by stating that ‘everyone has a right to education’ (UNESCO, 2011). Later, the Salamanca Statement (1994:9) outlined the importance of the rights of children with SEN and stressed the importance of ‘building an inclusive society and achieving education for all’. In 2001 the SEN Code of Practice was updated and an inclusive schooling framework was introduced, again reaffirming the need for inclusion through policy.
However, the Centre for Studies of Inclusive Education (CSIE, 2011) point out that inclusion is ‘much more than a policy requirement, [and] is founded upon a moral position which values and respects every individual’. It is clear from UK government policies that inclusion has become more of a focus in recent years. Steiner Schools ) and have done since the opening of the first Waldorf School in Southern Germany in 1919 (Wilson 1984:1).
Steiner was born in 1861 and grew to be not only an educationalist but a ‘philosopher, sociologist . . . artist [and] scientist’ (Childs, 1995:1). It was Steiner’s knowledge in these different spheres that influenced his educational philosophy. The first Waldorf School and Steiner Schools since then are based on these philosophies and beliefs and are ‘concerned with the most effective and beneficial means of educating the child in whatever society he happens to live’ (Steiner, 1976:7). The opening of the first Waldorf School demonstrates Steiner’s belief in inclusiveness as it was built in order to provide the children of workers at the Astoria Cigarette Factory with an education, which until then had been unavailable to them. Steiner/Waldorf Schools follow the same fundamental pedagogy described by Steiner.
Luxford (2006) maintains that Steiner Schools provide an education that is inclusive of all children, and states that teachers aim to ‘give each child a sense of being part of a class’ (2006:74). For children with SEN in particular, Rudolf Steiner developed philosophies of what he called a ‘Curative Education’. Steiner’s theory of anthroposophy; ‘a complete science of the spirit’ (Wilson, 1964:1) acts as the foundation for his pedagogy of curative education. It takes into account ‘knowledge of the whole human being not only in his bodily and psychological condition but also in his spiritual capacity’ (Luxford, 2006:28) and espouses a commitment to getting ‘away from solely assessing the capacities of the child and to add to it the fostering of the unique qualities possessed by the child’ (Luxford, 2006:17).
Steiner developed therapies for children who ‘cannot progress further in the classroom unless he receives specific individual help’ (Luxford, 2006:82). These therapies included; Eurhythmy, ‘an artistic and social movement activity which can further help the child towards a finer sense for its particular position in space’(Luxford, 2006:82), Art Therapy, ‘an artistic medium to lead the child through a healing and harmonizing process’ (Luxford, 2006:85), Music Therapy, ‘tones, intervals and rhythm’ used to evoke a therapeutic effect (Luxford 2006:87) and coloured light therapy, to ‘help in harmonizing and ordering the process of breathing’ (Luxford, 2006:89). He stated that these therapies should be ‘prescribed in a similar way to a medicine’ (Luxford, 2006:82).
It could be argued that these therapies reflect the Medical Model of Disability as described by Brisenden (1986:20) in that they segregate the child from mainstream lessons by providing them with alternative therapies. The term ‘curative’ also supports the Medical Model, in that it sees the disability as something that must be fixed in societal terms, rather than the opposite. However ‘to understand disability as an experience, as a lived thing, we need much more than medical facts’ (Brisenden 1986:20) and Steiner’s curative education focussed on gaining a deeper understanding of the child as an individual rather than their medical diagnosis. This would also reflect the Social Model of Disability. Steiner’s ideas about providing an education for children with SEN, were developed in Germany just after the First World War, and for this reason were deemed radical.
The Special Educational Needs and Disability Act (2001) confirmed that reasonable adjustments must be made in order for students with disabilities to have access to education and thus be included. Making adjustments can be costly, particularly constructional adjustments, and so funding is vital. The fewer funds a school has the less likely they are to be able to provide the correct resources and facilities for a child with SEN to be included. Webster and Roe (1998:171) state that whilst some adjustments ‘may be beyond the resources of many schools, some thought can be given to the citing of rooms’. This is particularly important for those learners with physical disabilities because to be included access to the classroom is crucial. Steiner Schools ‘occupy a wide range of premises. Some are in purpose built modern buildings . . . Yet others have resorted to ingenious adaptations of premises ranging from barns to disused churches’ (Woods, et al 2005:19/20). Steiner Schools are independent schools which currently do not receive state funding. However, the fees to attend are kept as low as possible because Steiner Schools aim ‘as far as possible, not to be financially exclusive’ (Steiner Information Booklet, 2010:13). Income fees are therefore ‘augmented by dynamic fundraising which is vital to the schools development’ (Steiner Information Booklet, 2010:13). Whether these funds are enough to provide sufficient support for learners with SEN is debatable.
‘Over the past twenty years more attention has been given to the learning environments of pupils who have SEN’ (Frederickson & Cline, 2009:194). The DfES (2005) suggests that there are four main categories of factors involved with the learning environment of a school. These are; ‘Physical factors’, ‘Relationship factors’, ‘Structures and expectations’, and ‘Language and communication factors’ (Frederickson & Cline, 2009:194). Research by Ainscow, et al (2006:5) found that different schools ‘thought about inclusion in different ways’. Some may focus more on supporting inclusion through the physical factors such as ‘the layout of the school and classroom, its facilities and the resources children use’, whereas other schools may focus on the language and communication factor, looking at ‘the way that relationships, structures and expectations are manifested through verbal and non-communication in the school’ (Frederickson & Cline, 2009:194/5). Other research such as that by Ekins and Grimes (2009:7) describes how inclusion is reachable if schools ‘make the processes much more meaningful and valuable by engaging with them in a more holistic way’, taking into account all the factors. There is clear debate amongst practitioners in regards to what factor effects the inclusion of learners with SEN the most, whether it is all of the factors combined or one in particular. However, there is research that suggests that each factor plays an important role in creating inclusion.
Bowlbys ‘Attachment Theory’ supports the notion of relationship factors being crucial in creating inclusion for children with SEN. It is believed that children need to develop strong relationships with at least one main attachment- figure (Bowlby 1997:304). The original attachment a child forms will be the basis for future relationships and Bowlby believes this attachment is crucial for a developing child. This theory is now put into practice in state Nursery and Early Years Centres through the Key Person Approach although it has been seen as a main feature of Steiner education since the first Waldorf School in 1919. In Steiner schools, children remain in the same class of children and with the same teacher for the majority of their school lives. This provides continuity and gives the child and teacher time to build a strong, knowledgeable, and understanding relationship.
The Lamb Inquiry (2008:33) stressed the importance of the relationship factor as well as the language and communication factor. It was found that ‘bullying of disabled children and children with SEN is more prevalent than it is for their peers’, which can have a negative impact on their education and their inclusion within friendship groups. It was suggested that many parents will withdraw their child from school because of bullying or the child will stop going to school by refusal. The Lamb Inquiry (2008:33) believed approaches for improving the inclusion of a child being bullied include the ‘intentional building of relationships and the development of peer support’. The inquiry also stated that the involvement of parents is vital in helping to support the inclusion of their child. It was found that in the most successful schools the ‘effective engagement of parents has had a profound impact on children’s progress’ (Lamb Inquiry, 2008:3) and that face-to-face communication with parents was crucial to developing inclusive relationships. Lipsky and Gartner (1996) stress the importance of the relationship factor, but also address the importance of physical factors through issues of funding for students with SEN.
A School visit report, comparing and contrasting approaches to SDP and whole school development
The observations below have been organised into groups depending on which factor of the learning environment they reflect. The interview transcript can be found in Appendix 1.
The physical factor
When I entered the school I noticed that there is no car park and no parking outside the entrance on the main road. The main entrance was narrow and there were stairs leading up to the classroom. I wondered how a physically disabled child would get to this school.
The classroom was small, and eight wooden desks faced the blackboard in rows. There is some artwork by children on the wall at the back, but otherwise there is little else in the room. The room has one window, which looks out onto fields. It is quiet and no traffic can be heard. I observed no modern technologies at the school.
The relationship factor
On day one the teacher greets each child as they enter the classroom by standing by the door and saying good morning. On day two the teacher asks the children to make a circle in the centre of the room and goes around shaking their hands and saying good morning. This is followed by the teacher and each pupil sharing a few words about how they are feeling. The teacher is knowledgeable about the children’s home lives. The children seem happy to be there, and are made to feel welcome. The children and teacher refer to each other by their first names.
With eight to a class the teacher seems to know each child and their parents well and spends time at the beginning and ending of each day talking to them. A strong sense of community is evident. At lunch and break time I do not observe any child playing on their own, and did not observe any teacher needing to comment on bad behaviour. The teacher is a strong role model during the day and the children respect the teacher’s authority.
Physical activities involved coordination and children must work as a team for the activity to work. Spatial awareness and timing are important aspects of these activities. A school assembly is held on day two. The school is very small in number and the whole school fits into one classroom. There is a strong sense of community and teachers and children in the school all seem to know each other well. The children seem aware of each other’s strengths and weaknesses; those that finish a task first are asked to support others who might be finding it more difficult. This favour is returned in other lessons where the child who had difficulty is feeling more confident. There are no teaching assistants in the school.
Structures and expectations
Due to the small class size the teacher seems very aware of each child’s level of work. Over the two days attendance rate was high with all children present. The children sit at separate desks arranged in rows, suggesting that the children’s work is their own as they are unable to copy each other. The class discusses adjectives to describe the work of a blacksmith. The teacher explains that the children learn the meaning of words through reciting poems, stories and verses before they learn to read or write the words. Decoding letters is believed to be easier once the child has the comprehension of the word.
There are no exams or assessments in the school. The lessons flow from one to the next. There is no clock on the wall and children are not rushed to finish their work. There are cleaning rotas for the parents and information regarding fundraising events on the notice board by the school entrance.
Language and communication factor
The teacher will often sing instructions to the class. If the teacher does not give verbal instruction the children will imitate what the teacher is doing. The children always seem to be focussed on the task in hand. They ask the teacher questions if needed, but otherwise get on with their work. They seem keen to learn and if they talk to each other it is about the task. The classroom is quiet and it is easy to hear and see what is going on in the room. The teacher often plays the flute as children are finishing off an activity and moving on to the next and this creates a calm atmosphere.
Recommendations supported by research for effective whole school inclusion; some reflection on students’ own role should also be included.
Mc Laughlin (1995:200-8) focuses heavily on the structures and expectations of the learning environment, believing that having an appropriate curriculum is crucial in providing effective inclusion of children with SEN. Steiner ‘never tired of emphasising that a proper pedagogy can grow only from a thorough knowledge of human nature, and particularly child nature’ (Childs, 1995:4). The curriculum taught in Steiner Schools is a reflection of what Steiner believed was appropriate for children in each stage of development, and is said to ‘encompass the development of knowledge of the whole human being’ (Luxford 2006:28). Imitation is also a central and effective part of learning in Steiner schools, an idea which is said by Lachman (2007) to have stemmed from Steiner’s childhood, when he spent many years being home tutored by his father.
There is clear evidence that each factor of the learning environment can be used to support inclusion although it is debated whether inclusion is in fact the best way of supporting learners with SEN. Kauffman & Hallahan (1995:1) argue that ‘inclusion of all students with disabilities in regular education programs . . . offers only an illusion of support’. Warnock (2005) also offers a very different opinion to that which is portrayed in her earlier reports, stressing that inclusion into mainstream schools is not the answer for all individuals. Regardless of this, the implementation of inclusive practices must still be improved and understood in order to provide effective support to those children for whom inclusion into mainstream schools is beneficial. This is another reason why the ongoing training of teachers is crucial, and why any research into the subject is important for the welfare of children with SEN whom it is vital to be included.
Sufficient training and in-depth research into the field of inclusion are essential if teachers are to improve as practitioners. It is for this reason that the focus of this study has been based around the learning environment of the Steiner school. It was considered that this would enable a deeper knowledge of areas that could be used to support the inclusion of individuals with SEN. It can be extremely difficult for someone without special educational needs, to fully understand the challenges a child with SEN faces every day. No two children are the same, and therefore the approach and teaching method used for each child may be different. The more methods and approaches practitioners are aware of, the more likely they are to be able to provide the correct support for learners and create inclusion, whether they practice in a state school or otherwise. Any knowledge that gained through conducting this research on providing inclusion will be of wider benefit because effective inclusion is ‘effective for all students, both with and without special education needs’(Jordan, et al, 2009:).
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Appendix 1 – Interview Questions and transcribed responses
Question One: Which aspects of the learning environment do you think are most important in supporting the inclusion of children with SEN in the Steiner School in which you teach?
Long-term relationships with teachers
GOOD peer support
Head, heart and hand genuinely equally valued and allocated equal prominence in timetable.” (Teacher 27/10/11).
Question Two: Does the Steiner school in which you teach receive any form of government funding to support children with SEN? If not where does the funding come from if more resources are needed?
“No. Small school budget plus extra parental funding. This is a constant problem and real weakness.” (Teacher 27/10/11).
Question Three: Have you had any incidences of bullying in your class of the learners with SEN?
“If I say no it sounds complacent and self-satisfied. I will say I cannot bring any examples to mind.” (Teacher 27/10/11).
Question Four: Do you think that the school is inclusive of children with any type of SEN?
“I would like to think so. But in practical terms the financial limits on resources inhibit us significantly.” (Teacher 27/10/11).
Question Five: Does the school use any of Steiner’s original curative therapies?
“Eurhythmy, though no teacher at present. But this is temporary. I have sent children to the anthroposophical Doctor before, who could have referred for the other therapies (which need a Doctor’s referral) – but he didn’t.” (Teacher 27/10/11).