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Findings and recommendations

Leaders and managers play a crucial role in promoting, maintaining and developing an inclusive culture and ethos in schools and colleges.

The members of staff we spoke to who work directly with young people felt very strongly that what the management team feels about inclusion in their school or college makes a big difference. When managers valued young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and/or special educational needs, other staff were encouraged to try to include them successfully.

Where managers saw inclusion as very important, young people tended to feel happy and confident that they belonged at their school or college. In these places, the staff felt supported in trying to do their job well. They were given the time to be creative and the flexibility to work in different ways. They were encouraged to develop new ideas in meeting the needs of young people. They were able to let young people take the lead in developing their individual strengths and interests. Leadership for inclusion does not only come from managers – in inclusive settings, staff and students can be leaders too.

In some schools and colleges, managers made extra money available to help staff work in better ways. For example, some schools or colleges set up special groups or had smaller classes. Some schools or colleges ran alternative courses or curriculum options to meet the individual needs of young people more appropriately. These practices often cost more than regular ways of working, but had better results – both in terms of young people’s confidence and their improved skills. We saw some extremely successful examples of these different ways of working and young people were very positive about their experiences in these settings. Young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and/or special educational needs feel much better about themselves when adults get things right.

Staff felt that it was important that there was a clear message from managers to other staff about the need to include everyone properly. Staff told us that the message needed to say that it was the responsibility of all staff to do this, not just those who had particular job titles or who ran special courses. They felt that this message had to come from the managers as well as the staff who worked in classrooms.

Members of staff need ways of influencing managers directly so that schools and colleges can keep developing more inclusive practices. As we have seen in the ‘What about us?’ project, managers also need to listen to young people – including young people with learning difficulties, disabilities and/or special educational needs. Young people can help managers to understand schools and colleges from the students’ points of view and have the capacity to become effective agents for positive change.

We suggest:

  • Leaders and managers should focus on developing approaches to leadership and management that promote inclusion at all levels
  • Leaders and managers should be confident that inclusive schools and colleges can effectively meet the needs of all learners, families and colleagues.
  1. University of Cambridge
  2. Big Lottery Fund
  3. Foundation for People with Learning Disabilities
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