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Inclusion – deep, wide and welcoming

This is a post about inclusion in schools, not just the inclusion of policy documents but the inclusion of real-life school, the inclusion that states explicitly, “you belong here regardless of how hard you find this”.

At the start of each That Reading Thing training, participants read the following:

1. What did Cal tell that big man at the pub? He was mad!
2. Bliss is in the galaxy of Blob. When you reach Blob, you have to stop at a space station to refuel. It’s full of aliens who have never seen a human before, so you are attracting a lot of attention.
3. The problem could be something about yourself (such as your thoughts, feelings, behaviour, health or appearance), your relationships with other people (such as your family, friends, teachers or boss), or your environment and the things that you own (such as your house, car, property, money).
4. Please contact the Hyper-Linguistic Polysyllabic Speech Association to request the mailing address of the Haberdashers’ Eleemosynary Charity in Sechelt. Apologies for the sesquipedalian nature of this memorandum. TM

We use it as the jumping-off point for the rest of the training, starting with two facts:

  • Virtually 100% of literate TRT trainees slow down or even stop somewhere in Section 4.
  • It’s very rare indeed to find someone who can’t read the first sentence by the end of their first TRT lesson.

Everyone is somewhere on the literacy continuum. Everyone belongs in the world of words and ideas. Each one of us can move ten steps ahead of where we are right now.

I make that point because, in the real world, people who struggle to read the first three sections also struggle to feel they belong in education and that starts horrifically early. They sense “them and us” for most of their school lives – sometimes because they just absorb the fact that their peers can do things with language that they can’t, sometimes because they sense the impatience of adults who are frustrated by their lack of progress, and sometimes because those adults say unforgiveable things.

A six-year-old said he was thick and never going to read. (His teacher told him that.)

A nine-year-old projected his life forward through no exams at high school, no job as an adult and to homelessness. His conclusion was that he might as well die now. (His teacher said he was putting up walls so she couldn’t teach him.)

A 14-year-old said it wasn’t enough that he was improving; he still sounded stupid. (His nan told him that.)

A 19-year-old said he was unteachable, that he’d never learn to read. (His college tutor told him that.)

Every single educational establishment in the country should be equipped to help each of their struggling readers and they need a clear understanding of how improved reading is linked to a sense of belonging in education.

It’s not a matter of no longer saying discouraging things or of tolerating difference under the name of inclusion; it’s about proactively creating an environment where it’s ok to be slower than your peers because we value who you are right now and we can help you move forward with the support you need.

If the problem is behavioural as well as academic, then we need to get even more creative, but I’ve seen the most disruptive, angry, even violent young people flourish in a one-to-one setting, so I believe in no excuses for schools when it comes to improving literacy.

A 62 year wrote the following:

Dyslexia, Lazy, Stupid, Dumb, Stopped being my mantra. which means Shame and Humiliation have subsided. Now I am like most people, not great at spelling, but a much happier person!

There are too many children and young people right now who are carrying the weight of those awful words, who feel shame and humiliation every single day in an environment which is, tacilty or explicitly, communicating that education is only for people who meet certain expectations.

We specialise in literacy for anyone – inside or outside the education system – who didn’t get it the first time. Year 6, secondary schools, post-16, FE, prisons, homelessness organisations, youth organisations, community groups – they can all make a huge difference to struggling readers who, despite all the policy documents, have never felt included.

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