As chair of parallel session B for the BCF Spotlight on SEND event in March 2022, it was my pleasure to introduce the speakers and to field questions from the audience. In addition to the other blog posts by the individual presenters it is interesting to look at the themes that arose and how they emerged in the parallel session. These discussions provoke memories of my own experiences in the 1990s in leading a national centre for the support for teachers and parents of children with sensory impairment. In designing professional learning for teachers of hearing and visually impaired learners, I was struck then by the simple fact that for some children it is access to the curriculum itself that is most central to their learning. My thoughts were stirred by the questions in the main room around whether the curriculum has to be delivered through adaptation and if there was another way forward. What are the changes needed for young people, who may learn differently, if they are to have meaningful access to the curriculum and the learning they need?
This theme of curriculum adaptation was echoed and complemented in the session B talks that I chaired. In her talk, Margaret Mulholland discussed the ideas of equity rather than equality, in an inquiry approach in which the role of teachers as problem solvers is to apply adaptive expertise in an inclusive pedagogy. This holistic approach includes teachers, as detectives, being open to children’s ability to access the curriculum, and to focus on the pupil while not fixating on their condition. This positions teachers as active planners of the curriculum. This, Margaret stressed, is a shift on learning and teaching, starting with those learners who may struggle to learn, that is valuable for all, while being vital for some.
This focus on planning and reviewing was taken up by Amelia Roberts in the context of lesson study as a mechanism to enhance the implementation of the curriculum. The aim of this, she argued, was to learn more about pupils through observation, with clear objectives informed by a collaborative approach, and, similar to Margaret Mulholland’s perspective, is based on inquiry into the strategies for learning that can help the child. In this way, the curriculum can be redesigned and refined as a result of a systematic lesson study approach, to make lessons more inclusive for all learners by making learning more collaborative.
The notion of curriculum as mechanism was central to the presentation by Janet Hoskins, in which she challenged the assumptions we make about what is normal and the criteria we apply to a normative model of difference. In asking how policy and context have helped to shape these assumptions, Janet suggested that disabled children have become othered and, in many ways, invisible. She called on teachers and schools to challenge these assumptions, arguing for thinking that disrupts the status quo, including decolonising ideas of inclusion as well as the curriculum itself.
The aspirations set out by Janet were taken up by Chandrika Devarakonda who examined the language of labels and what we see and do not see when we look at images of disabled children. How we see ourselves and how others see us relates to our identities, and Chandrika explored the notion of intersectionality as the interaction of multiple factors that lead to discrimination. These factors include gender, race, religion and disability, but they also include poverty and how we speak and look. Teachers who are aware of the effects of representation and intersectional identities in curriculum contexts, are more likely to plan and provide content that can meet pupils’ needs, without tokenism.
Back in the main session, there was love in the room, and indeed several of the questions mentioned love specifically. One participant told the story of being told by the head of her daughter’s new school that they couldn’t provide anything ‘different’ to other schools but that they ‘would love her’. The importance of a focus on love was raised by others who found it difficult to envisage a policymaking world where showing or giving love is seen as important. How do we get there? The speakers spoke to this beautifully, I feel – a focus on love and hope is very closely related to understanding students holistically, and to a world in which teachers’ curriculum practices might swing the balance of power towards parents and children.