A supportive network of inclusive teaching and learning for all

Written by Sally Betts, co-director of Ideas4Learning. She is an ETF associate working on SEND.

Further education needs to create a culture where everyone can feel welcome and thrive and any barriers to progress are identified and removed.

How do we create a culture of inclusion within our organisations and make learning inclusive in our classrooms – ensuring everyone feels welcome, safe, has a sense of belonging and are free to be themselves?

A place where everyone (learners and staff) is encouraged to develop and progress without feeling anxious or overwhelmed, and where any barriers are identified and actions taken to remove them.

The Education and Training Foundation’s (ETF) three Centres for Excellence in SEND found that by continually working to improve provision for learners with SEND the culture of their organisations became more inclusive too.

By recognising the neurodiversity of their staff and learners, Derby College Group has identified ways to make the curriculum more accessible for autistic learners, helping them to progress and find work placements.

This is hugely important when you consider there are 700,000 people on the autism spectrum in the UK and that only 16% of autistic adults of working age are in full-time paid employment. Making small changes can make a big difference to learners under the neurodiversity umbrella, which includes a wide range of conditions such as dyslexia and ADHD. Many disabilities are not immediately apparent, often referred to as hidden disabilities. For example, hearing loss, high-functioning Asperger’s, mental health issues, and fibromyalgia.

Learners may not feel confident or want to share they have a hidden disability at enrolment, particularly those with mental health issues. Research has shown that around three-quarters of people with mental health illness first experience symptoms before the age of 25. But our mental health can change at any time.

Weston College wants to create a culture of positive mental health that supports learners and staff, and is achieving this through several initiatives, such as the development of specialist practitioners, introducing mind and body activities and linking with community organisations.

Working in FE means continual change. This can lead to anxiety, loss of confidence and, at times, feeling overwhelmed. Teaching new qualifications, such as T Levels, introduces new aspects to current work practices. For example,

T Levels include industry placements, so staff would want to feel confident to talk to employers about them. City College Norwich has been working with employers to support inclusion in the workplace.