There is a challenge for many of the projects of the European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education: how do you make cross-European projects useful and informative without reducing everything to such high level principles that they finish up advocating the benefits of motherhood and apple pie?
First, what the Agency projects strive to do is address the links between policy and practice in the priority areas identified by member countries. The debate is then not so much about what works but about what enables it to work. Increasingly, there is a recognition that the policy export-import business is not a productive one. Rather, it is important to understand the context and the conditions that enabled a particular approach to work. This, in turn, leads to a more analytical approach, a better understanding of local and national contexts. More of a forum for holding up the mirror than a policy trading floor.
At the practice level, there is now a growing number of Agency projects producing useful tools to put into the hands of practitioners. Recent projects have included: a ‘self-reflection tool’ for reviewing how inclusive early years provision is, in terms of how welcoming the setting is, how socially, educationally, environmentally inclusive it is; and a review tool from the Raising Achievement for All project focusing on features of inclusive pedagogy and five key features of inclusive leadership and collaboration.
Then, where findings from Agency projects across several different countries all confirm the same key factors, there is some additional confidence that the findings are solid. Agency projects are of all different shapes and sizes, but nearly all projects start with some kind of literature review. One that has just been published provides an analysis of over 200 peer-reviewed research papers exploring the links between inclusive education and social inclusion beyond school. First, of course, the researchers have to define their terms. The analysis confirms the positive links between inclusive education and social inclusion. Whilst all the data shows that schools in England are becoming less inclusive, it is important to recognise the longer term national, as well as individual, benefits of social inclusion. Is this a finding that might persuade those who are not convinced of either the principle or the immediate benefits of more inclusive educational provision?
Arriving back at the ‘new’ (temporary) office on Mare Street, the team was not persuaded of my claim that I had been to Zurich: I had no pictures of mountains, banks, upmarket insurance houses and I had omitted to take a photo of the one cuckoo clock that I had seen. The arrival of Toblerone on the office snack table was surprisingly persuasive, given you can get Toblerone at any sweet shop or airport ‘duty free’.
Wish you were here,