Still on ‘Inclusion’ Maresa went with ‘The Alliance for Inclusive Education’ on a visit to France in December 2009. The trip was part of a European initiative to see how inclusion operates in different countries in Europe. Over the next eighteen months there will be visits to Italy, Iceland and Romania as well as ALLFIE being host here in Britain.

It was really interesting, if not a bit depressing, to see how even with enormous enthusiasm and vision educators are still struggling to enable inclusion to happen. The people in Lille in France were the most generous hosts and their underground transport system has been wheelchair accessible for over 20 years!

Beating the drum for inclusion

Do we ever truly understand or question what it is to be educated? Education is such a vital part of life that every one of us must experience in some form during our lives, yet it can mean something different to all of us and can be taken for granted. In fact, at the fast pace education moves today we might be forgiven for losing sight of some of the most valuable lessons we are ever likely to learn. So much has changed even in the short time span since One For All left school in 2001, so in an effort to answer some of these questions and keep in touch with education today I (Lucy) went back to class!

Since January 2006 I have been visiting a secondary school in Hull once a week, this time to get a taste of what it’s like on the other side of the desk as a teacher! It has been great preparation for the secondary music P.G.C.E course I am due to begin in September, giving me a unique opportunity to see how things operate in a mainstream secondary school. I have spent a total of 15 days at David Lister School over a 10 week period, offering my support in the music department.

So what has this got to do with inclusion I hear you say? Well, I really feel this work experience has given me a valuable insight into education from a (new) teaching perspective, the knowledge from which I hope to relate to future One For All workshops. I have particularly learnt a lot about emotional, behavioural and learning difficulties and thanks to the support of the staff at David Lister (especially the music teacher Joy Radford) I was able to catch a glimpse of many dimensions in education, ranging from behaviour and classroom management to special educational needs, in a school other than my own. In addition to this I was also given the opportunity to teach a few lessons independently and I am pleased to say, I think they were a success! I also spent a full day in the special needs department, learning how things operate and I had two successful music lessons with a special needs group. In their first lesson with me they were rather shy and reluctant to perform, but it wasn’t long before the inclusive nature of music was revealed and by the second session the low confidence and social skills of these children had soared. They each performed something to the remainder of the class and showed thorough enjoyment in this music lesson. I was even complemented on my dancing and asked if I would return! For me moments like these show the true power of music and prove that it means something to everyone regardless of ability, which is why I enjoy it so much. Music should be enjoyed. It is not about exam grades or league tables, instead it invests in people, in time, friendships and social skills, all of which are at the heart of any inclusive practice!

I had many satisfying moments like these during my time at David Lister and what made the whole process more rewarding was that it is a challenging inner city school in an area of low expectation. I am pleased to report it has an inclusive policy and as a result welcomes children of all abilities, many of whom have very challenging behaviour. Together with the hard work and commitment of the staff at David Lister, I was recruited as a student ambassador on behalf of Hull University to go into this school as a student associate and raise the aspirations of children in Hull. In my opinion there is no better subject to bring people together and boost confidence than music. Over the weeks of my placement I have watched kids unaware of their true potential, who have been despondent in all other curriculum subjects, open up in music and find talents they could feel proud of. With encouragement and time many were able to perform music to the class on their own, work together as a group and share their achievements with others.

Things had gone so well that as part of a project week at the end of my work experience, myself and Joy Radford arranged a special music day for pupils of all ages across the school to participate in. Thus, continuing to build their developing social skills in group work. To achieve this, Mr Lawrence Rug, a curriculum support worker, was invited to give a day of African drumming workshops to the children. Everyone had great fun exploring unfamiliar African instruments (drums, shakers and bells) and learning about the geography and culture of this vast continent – very apt, as Hull is twinned with Freetown, in Sierra Leone! These sessions saw the kids learning new rhythms that were fitted together in group performances, which meant they had to listen hard and work together. Without the restrictions of westernised music and unlimited expectations the children had to use all their senses, allowing them to experiment with a new found creativity and freedom which promoted self expression within an inclusive whole.

I was particularly fond of the year ten music G.C.S.E. group (pictured below with myself and Joy Radford), as I worked closely with this group and observed an interesting change and great deal of progress in their attitude towards work and each other. I taught this group quite regularly and at the beginning of my placement found them to be very timid, lacking in confidence and sceptical towards new ideas. In fact, they did not work together as a group at all! However, as my lessons with them continued, we developed these areas in our own African music performances, as well as improvisation sessions and a lesson on popular song, from which came two enthusiastic group compositions, with a bit of inspiration form rock ‘n’ roll, old and new – in the form of Bonjovi and the legendary king, Elvis Presley! As you can see from the photos, by the time the African workshop arrived they were happy to get stuck in and have a go. They actually enjoyed working together as a whole group with the confidence to share ideas that resulted in a fantastic African music performance!

So my advice to any teachers out there (whatever your subject) is that if you want to make your lessons more meaningful and inclusive why not try introducing a touch of imagination with some music and I’m sure you too will soon realise first hand, that to be educated is more than reading, writing and arithmetic. It can take on many forms, but most importantly it is about bringing people together (regardless of ability) and learning from each other.  The ultimate goal should be to re-evaluate our expectations, so every child has a fair expectation they can meet, raise personal development to achieve this and value what every child can offer, whatever that may be. At the risk of controversy I dare say, the experience these children gained and the personal satisfaction I felt for taking part in this process cannot be measured by our narrow education system, as it was worth more than any G.C.S.E!

Finally, I would like to say a huge thank you and well done to all the staff and pupils at David Lister School!

You can see the African workshop in action below!