The Importance of an Inclusive School Community
George Penlington, Deputy Head (Pastoral), discusses the importance of inclusivity in a happy and successful community.
From the first day a child walks into a school ready to start their education, the hope – of the pupil, the parents, and the school itself – is that they will feel welcomed, included; that they will feel it is the school for them.
The creation of an inclusive school community, though, requires a great deal of thought, preparation, and willingness to develop. This is no more firmly felt than in this post-Covid period, as all schools strive to rediscover the sense of community which was fragmented by the necessary 15 months of isolation and ‘bubbling’.
Here are a few guiding principles that have helped us to become the school we are. This is by no means an exhaustive list and approaches inclusivity in a broad sense.
Keep the Main Thing the Main Thing
This has been something of a mantra for me since I moved into senior leadership. Regardless of the situation, if we lose sight of ‘the main thing’, then we will not achieve our goals.
In schools, the main thing must be the child.
This may appear an obvious statement, but, concerningly, it isn’t always the case. For us at Radnor House, ‘Celebrating Every Individual’ is not just a tagline, but a fundamental approach to achieving success for the child. Each pupil must be afforded the opportunity to develop both general skills (ones for all) and those particular to their interests.
Establish Inclusive Policies
Whether relating to Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity (EDI), SEND, Anti-Bullying, Equal Opportunities, or Careers (to name a few), the school’s policies need to ensure that all pupils’ needs are met. The school must outline clearly what it does, ensuring that they are compliant.
Provide Support Services
A strong SEND department and student support team are necessary to successfully uphold the policies. While tutors are the main support network for the pupils (each pupil has two tutors at Radnor House), and although we want to ensure that we provide for all pupils’ needs in the classroom, more specialist staff must be on hand to help pupils requiring more individualised attention, whether for SEN, language support, or counselling.
Encourage Pupil Voice and Action
It is important we listen to the pupils. While it might not be possible to put into effect the requests of each individual, or each group, an open dialogue is still important, as is providing as much transparency as possible.
It is important to utilise the strengths of the pupils to help establish an inclusive community. We train Year 11 and Year 13 Peer Mentors. They are there to listen and to support. Sometimes that sense of inclusion comes from speaking to someone closer in age and who has experienced teenage challenges more recently.
At Radnor House, we have established one of our Four Core Values as Respect. This is vital if pupils are to feel both valued and included. It is also key to establishing an expectation of an outward view: one which focuses more on those around us rather than ourselves.
Zero Tolerance Policy
A school also needs to be prepared to deal with pupils who do not meet the expectations of the school. While it must be understood that children will make mistakes and will require clear guidance and education regarding inappropriate language and actions, it must be understood that there is no place for bullying, discrimination, and exclusionary behaviour.
Maintaining clear teaching, both explicitly in PSHEE and assemblies, and embedding inclusivity in the curriculum, is key to setting the tone.
Maintain a Diverse Curriculum
Where there is flexibility in the curriculum, we should seek to widen the experience of the pupils both in and out of the classroom. As with many independent schools in the UK, our community is not very diverse (in terms of percentages), reflecting the demographics of the Sevenoaks area. We have, therefore, sought to ensure that the curriculum represents diverse perspectives, cultures, and backgrounds. A key area has been a review of the literature in the library and the guest speakers we bring into the school. In addition, our connection with the other Round/Square schools from around the world allows us to broaden the cultural experiences of the pupils.
Bring the Pupils Together
By bringing Year 7 to Year 11 pupils together daily (and the Sixth Formers every week) in a vertical tutoring system, it has brought the school community closer. It has diluted the intensity felt within a single year group, provided them with a more ‘natural’ environment, and has allowed the younger pupils to learn from the older ones’ pro-social behaviour.
Bring the Whole Community Together
Having established the pupils at the centre of everything we do, look at how you can bring everyone else together, ensuring they feel included too. Whether through large events (fireworks, family fun days etc), regular coffee mornings, or promoting active parent reps, it is important that parents feel included in the school too.
Additionally, create an impact in the local community through weekly community service, large scale annual events (Make a Difference Day), and maintaining active charity work.
Remember that creating an inclusive school community is an ongoing process that requires commitment, collaboration, and a willingness to adapt to the changing needs of students and the community. Constant reassessment and reflection are vital, engaging with all stakeholders throughout.