CfESEND blog: Derby College reflect on anticipating inclusion needs (SEND) in Further Education settings

Pete Benyon, Project and Delivery Manager at Derby College Group (DCG), for the Centres for Excellence in SEND programme.

In Further Education (FE) we plan and develop a variety of processes and tools that prospective learners use to apply, enrol and engage with our educational offer and other services. For learners and staff, a primary function of this is to anticipate learners’ individual needs within an educational context. However, even though we follow these processes, come October, there can still be heard within offices and staff rooms across the country, the age-old exclamation: “am I expected to be a mind-reader!?” when something has not gone to plan with our planning, group profiles and differentiation.

As a neurodiversity and behaviour specialist, leader, and trainer in FE, I have developed a large range of methods, tools and activities to attempt to spread and drive forward the inclusive message. This toolkit includes a range of props, anecdotes, metaphors and mnemonics (memory tools), classroom strategies, a degree of self-awareness and developments based in research and reading. If that all fails, I resort to a film quiz!

At Derby College we attempt to challenge the “Mind Reader Scenario” in a variety of ways. Our Inclusion Team are notified when a learner applies and shares an inclusion need. The learner is contacted, supported at interview to share further details with their intended curriculum area about their normal way of working and adaptations that enable access and success. A follow-up conversation where an Inclusive Teaching Plan is created with the learner and possibly others from their circle of support. All relevant information gained is shared with teaching colleagues in order to support inclusive planning, once enrolment takes place all of the information is then transferred into our live ProMonitor package. This then informs group profiles and further planning.

Obviously, for learners with highly complex needs there is a version of the above. Often these learners will have an Education Health and Care Plan (EHCP) or will require high needs funding to engage with curriculum successfully.

Like illusionists following a set of sleight-of-hand or memory tricks, the right information gets to the right people at the right time, so that actual mind-reading is not necessary!

Biosocial Theory

From a scientific or theoretical perspective this anticipation of need and proactive approach to support links to Biosocial Theory. Biosocial Theory, in the format I am discussing, was described by Marsha Linehan[1] and related to her work with individuals with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and her therapeutic method, Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), a branch of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). But Biosocial Theory has broader implications (than only being relevant to individuals with BPD) as it explains how (maladapted or) unwanted behaviours are facilitated in individuals who have neurodiversity (pathological and/or biological differences) via their experience of non-inclusive and non-anticipatory environments and responses. When this “cycle” is repeated, then behaviours become pervasive or ingrained; they become naturalised for that individual in a specific context.

As an example, a learner with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) within a formal classroom scenario, displaying the three main classic elements of this diagnosis – hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention – is unlikely to sit still, stay quiet and stay on task without adjustment and/or intervention. Without consideration and planning for this diversity, this pupil is likely to experience negative consequences and reprimands even though it is recognised that the learner WILL find it difficult to meet traditional classroom expectations (sitting still, being quiet and maintaining focus when interest in the activity is low) at a pathological/biological level. Frustration, embarrassment, and feelings of low self-worth are likely to follow, themselves leading to emotional responses, dysregulation (within the context of a classroom) and unwanted, possibly aggressive, behaviour. Often when these behaviours are displayed, individuals are deemed to be “at fault” and are labelled problematic, leading to social and educational exclusion to further detriment to their progress and mental health.

Below is a visual illustration of this:

When we are marketing our Colleges or settings, when we interview learners and then enrol and induct them, it is important that we are aware of the impact our environments, processes and communication (in person and remotely) have. Unfortunately, diverse individuals can become labelled as “difficult”, “awkward” and “a problem” due to behaviours that have been, in some instances, created by processes and actions we, as an education system, have implemented for the many at the expense of the minority.

Can we then challenge ourselves to use this research to review and plan our processes and communication in an enabling and validating way so that the possibility of maladapted behaviours is minimised?

A visual example of how individuals can be validated within a process follows:

Examples of the adjustments we have made are:

  • Enhanced transition planning where learners can visit sites as many times as they need to
  • Visiting schools to meet with learners prior to application and/or interview
  • Organising inclusion showcase events
  • Being clear and explicit about expectations
  • Sharing of interview questions prior to interview
  • Explaining what the interview format will be
  • Letting interviewees know who will be present at the interview
  • Sharing pictures of the staff who will be interviewing and supporting
  • Conducting mock College interviews and
  • Making sure any shared inclusion needs and reasonable adjustments are catered for during visits and/or interviews (i.e. interview questions may need to be provided on coloured paper for those with scotopic sensitivity, location of interview taking into account students sensory and/or mobility needs and using clear and unambiguous language etc).

We are also developing virtual 360º site tours using VR headsets, updating our online DCG Inclusion Handbook, developing animation tools to make communication more attractive and accessible and reviewing the accessibility of our website.

To return to our previous example of ADHD, validating the individual via a “fresh start” from point of contact, not judging them by previous reports, by listening to their needs (re: communication, expectation, movement, respite, special interests etc) and working WITH them to plan for their engagement at College is key for retention, achievement and progression. For this to be successful, it may also be beneficial to look at whole class and whole College expectations and their communication to students and staff to assess if the expectations are consistent, inclusive, and responsive rather than ego-driven, punitive, and reflex.

Through the work of the Centre for Excellence, we will often ask professionals to make lists of reasonable adjustments they could implement to meet the needs of individuals. Invariably, the professionals we engage with can come up with large number of adjustments which would benefit and include individuals. But, when we “flip the question” and ask how many of these adjustments are routinely available at the point of delivery for the benefit of ALL learners, more often than not, the answer is that few or none are routinely available.

If we can easily identify adjustments which will benefit all learners, why wouldn’t we make them routinely available? And, to expand, because inclusive practice, in its very essence and by its nature includes EVERYONE, why wouldn’t we make this the “norm”, instead of the norm being to exclude some and only benefit most? We watch the participants when we ask these questions as they are followed with … silence … realisation … and then … epiphany – metaphoric lightbulbs illuminate the room as they all reach the same conclusion that inclusive activity includes everyone and does not need to be “additional” or “an adjustment” if they are implemented from the outset.

A personalised, student-centred approach includes EVERYONE to the benefit of ALL.

We, as educators, can use theories like biosocial theory and a variety of methods, activities and processes to make inclusion happen; we do not need to be mind-readers, but WE do need to change if we are going to stop exclusion and start including everyone in all that we do from initial contact to progression.

If you would like to discuss anything included here or anything else Inclusive Education and Curriculum, join us at our next Monthly Swap and Support Session at 4pm on Thursday July 1 2021 by booking here: ETF CFE DCG July 2021 Swap and Support Session.

If you would like further information about how we can support you and/or your organisation on your inclusion journey please contact us:

[1] Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of Borderline Personality Disorder. New York, NY: Guilford Press.

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