Education for All Inclusive education Learning Teaching skills

Education Really Matters: Making the most of Online, Hybrid and Blended Learning

Frank O’Hagan

“The web as I envisaged it, we have not seen it yet. The future is still so much bigger than the past.” Tim Berners-Lee (Inventor of the World Wide Web)

Distinctive aspects of meaningful learning

Authentic learning is a complex and multi-faceted phenomenon. Key features for children, adolescents, and adults, regardless of their ages, abilities or social backgrounds, comprise: (1) feeling valued and respected within well-planned and stimulating tutorial sessions and other inspiring settings; (2) being able to listen, pay attention and take account of the ideas, suggestions and advice of trusted friends and teachers; (3) developing versatility in comprehending instructions and tasks; (4) responding appropriately and imaginatively in differing situations; (5) having the self-belief and confidence to contribute in both individualised and group activities in order to achieve worthwhile attainments and achievements; (6) participating enthusiastically in creative and lateral thinking, experimentation, problem-solving work, and independent computer-based and online seminars; (7) personalising approaches towards scholarship and erudition while accepting that at times learning can be challenging and needs to be perceived as an essential, life-long process; and (8) embracing a culture which is value-based and promotes the acquisition of useful knowledge, in-depth perception, and an array of transferrable skills for everyday living in a changing world.

“Study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in.”  Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

Online, hybrid and blended learning and support

It follows that online, hybrid and blended learning, when used appropriately, incorporate relevant aspects of the eight characteristics, outlined above. In doing so, they deliver a variety of ‘psychologically enriching’ experiences which are informative, practical and life-enhancing. Their efficient usage has much to offer in what teachers can arrange and undertake in a flexible manner to encourage greater insight, reflection, and resourcefulness among their pupils. As in other matters, the saying “Crises breed opportunities” applies to learning and teaching. This is evident as when digital innovations are put to good use for young persons in periods of misfortune, for instance, during illnesses, travel restrictions or a pandemic. Teachers also may want to avail of technological applications when students, for whatever reasons, are unable to attend lessons, wish to learn outside of school hours, or request guidance prior to important examinations.

“Blended learning has to blend something, and in my mind it blends the best of what a teacher brings to the table and the best of what technology brings to the table, together.”  Rick Ogston (Carpe Diem Founder)

The terms ‘online, ‘hybrid’ and ‘blended’ are to be found described in slightly different ways. For the purposes of this post: online simply refers to methodologies which only take place online; hybrid denotes that some learners are physically in attendance while others are online but perhaps, now and then, use is being made of both styles; and blended indicates a combination of conventional teaching or training with members present along with online/e-learning also being employed to extend accessibility, independent contributions and flexibility.

Although available in many forms and guises, each methodology can be effective in promoting scholarship and boosting individual and public participation. They include: networking within lessons, seminars and lectures organized by schools and other educational establishments; linking with data bases, libraries, and websites by way of the internet to undertake research and ascertain relevant information; partaking in one-to-one learning support; enrolling in remote conferences; and perchance delighting in illuminating experiences via immersive involvement in virtual spaces.

Depending on circumstances, these approaches can be utilised in a wide range of locations – in everyday, instructional environments; in the home of a person receiving assistance through a social media platform and, if necessary, in the presence of a tutor; in public co-learning hubs to help overcome a sense of isolation or to benefit from collaboration with other students; in work places for apprentices; and in hospitals for the infirm, to name but a few. There is little doubt that online, hybrid and blended learning, and the meaningful exploitation of assistive technologies, can achieve much in fostering a sense of achievement and self-esteem among educators and those eager to extend their know-how and skillsets.

In all situations, high-quality oversight is paramount to ensure that programs of study meet specified standards and levels of capacity in order for learners to engage and make progress. No participant should be expected to ‘fit’ into curricular boxes. Rather, what is on offer ought to match stages of development and accelerate everyone’s advancement. When truly efficacious, these methodologies create a synergy which challenges recipients to think beyond what is being taught and to seek self-directed routes towards a deeper understanding and perceptiveness.

“Technology is best when it brings people together.”   Matt Mullenweg

Advantages and, unfortunately, some possible shortcomings

As indicated already, technological innovations have the facility to improve management regarding the prearranged pace and presentation of contents in lessons while affording more control over unwelcomed interruptions and disruptive behaviours. (You will appreciate the latter point if you have encountered an unruly classroom!) However, there may be impediments to estimating learners’ levels of engagement and motivation, especially if they inhibit access to their responses and feelings. Such reactions give rise to difficulties in observing and judging facial expressions and other forms of non-verbal feedback.

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road.”  Stewart Brand (Author)

Teachers may come across products which publishers are masquerading as motivational and wholesome while in practice they are inadequate. This negative feature arises because many software packages for online learning have not been sufficiently evaluated prior to release. Care is vital to ensure that those being used have some form of evidence-based validation. However, despite potential drawbacks, utilising suitable in-school and commercial computer platforms will successfully convey key facts and information to boost effective learning. Very importantly, well-designed programs also augment inclusive practices through the delivery of bespoke ‘spiral curriculum’ pathways to assist learners, including those with substantial needs. Examples exist within a wide range of areas – the acquisition of skills in reading and writing, mathematics and social arithmetic, the arts, business, and so forth.

Well-judged use of applications (‘apps’ in ‘cyber speak’) within an operating system offers users an array of specific opportunities to deepen their knowledge and competences. Clearly, there is no need for learners to be always in a class or laboratory, particularly if they are unwell, reticent, disabled or unable to follow the contents of a course. For diverse reasons, ‘digital travel’ as opposed to ‘physical presence’ often results in a welcomed endorsement of responsibilities and independent study. Virtual meetings do much to encourage cooperation and networking across interest groupings. Moreover, therapeutic inputs – through carefully selected psychological procedures – have salutary and beneficial roles to contribute in reducing anxiety and enhancing wellbeing. 

Recent developments have enabled learning communities to involve parents and caregivers in observing and, if appropriate, taking part in lessons. Likewise, they have simplified liaison by the sending of private messages and/or results on children’s progress. Online appointments facilitate ‘remote attendance’ at events and can overcome obstacles and constraints when stakeholders are under pressure from packed family schedules. More generally, custom-made websites are being used to keep everyone up-to-date by publishing news items and bulletins. They also have a part to play in providing advice and guidance on matters relating to health and welfare linked with collaborative work being undertaken by professionals, such as social workers, therapists and psychologists.

Concluding thoughts

To briefly summarise – online, hybrid and blended approaches contribute greatly to our capacity to create and deliver new, exciting gateways within schooling and the world of work. They reinforce both personalised and cooperative learning and eradicate any remaining myths concerning ‘one-size-fits-all’.

Advances include: (1) openings for educationalists to share ideas, good practices and ‘what works’; (2) easier admission by young people to lessons, seminars, training prospects, and formal apprenticeships; (3) greater flexibility in taking account of learning contexts, living conditions, and everyday experiences; (4) a range of high-quality options to record, monitor and review achievements and to offer reassuring feedback; (5) a better focus on addressing requirements arising from disabilities or additional support needs; and (6) privacy for sick, anxious, reserved or reticent individuals.

Future constructive growth will: (1) extend ‘open’ scholarship; (2) stimulate a genuine culture of connectedness across inventiveness, innovation and research; and (3) enhance communal equity and inclusiveness. Within this on-going expansion, it is crucial that marginalised groups have the necessary resources and assistance to be fully engaged. Otherwise, they will fall further behind in not having access to beneficial didactic and training opportunities. Undoubtedly, there is a duty on governments and authorities to sweep away stumbling blocks and to bring together willing and talented parties to generate significant, collective improvements.

“I am still learning.”  Michelangelo (1475 – 1564) at 87 years of age

For a related article on the topic of “Promoting Authentic Learning”, please use the following link:

Education for All Inclusive education Learning Teaching skills

Education Really Matters: Reflections on Acquiring and Using Language

Nick Pepin

Early professional experiences

When I embarked on my career in education as a newly qualified teacher, I was particularly interested in language development and enthused by The Primary Memorandum and the writings of Margaret Donaldson and Noam Chomsky. This enthusiasm then bumped into the reality of the serried rows of 40+ children in a composite Primary 6/7 class in an inner-city primary school in Glasgow, each of whom was equipped with a copy of Angus McIver’s ‘First Aid in English’. I reflect on this now in a manner I didn’t then, the ways in which ideas are tempered by realities and the dynamics in resolving such tensions.

< ‘Meow’ means ‘woof’ in cat. > (George Carlin)

Of course, Primary 6/7 wasn’t really a starting point for anyone in that classroom other than myself. The children were now 10 or 11 years of age and had proceeded through classes from Primary 1. None had experienced pre-school education. Some had progressed well in their acquisition of language skills while others had not. All but a tiny handful had the same ‘First Aid in English’ as a text book. Three or four attended what was referred to as ‘Remedial’ a few times a week for help with their reading using the Griffin Pirate Readers. These children, who made little progress, and a good number more were struggling to achieve a level of competence which would allow them to access much of the curriculum in secondary education. Complicating matters was the clear understanding the children had themselves of where they stood in relation to their classmates and in their confidence in reading. Listening, talking and writing were similarly stratified but much less openly. Over the years this feature would remain the case while more differentiated reading schemes even more noticeably identified who was doing well and who wasn’t. This seemingly clear view of where each child was in relation to reading – and thus to language more generally was also evident to parents and carers. “What level is Alex on now?” was almost always a leading question.

Points to ponder

For many teachers the effects of poverty are evident every day and they struggle to compensate. Children who are underfed and poorly nourished do not learn as well. Breakfast clubs, free school meals and other mitigations, where available, help but the impact of uncertainties over such basics as food, clothing and accommodation are hugely damaging. Parents who labour with such problems are often unable to interact meaningfully with their children including by providing models for language development.

When I stand back from this partial picture of my first months as a teacher and use it as a backdrop to what I have seen and learned over the next 40 years of what key points strike me most and require consideration. These include the following.

  • Poverty and its attendance issues
  • The quality of interactions – listening and talking, behaviour and products
  • That children, especially when young, are always learning but not perhaps what we think or want, and this phenomenon has consequences
  • The huge importance of the early years in children’s lives for learning and the disparity in training, esteem and rewards for those working in early education
  • The expectations placed on schools and teachers
  • The quality of interrelationships across listening, talking, reading and writing
  • The impact of new technologies on language acquisition and use
  • The seemingly perennial problems over interfaces in the transition from early years to further and higher education
  • The importance of abilities in language in empowering citizens
  • The need to recognise how verbal language sits alongside other languages, e.g., mathematics, the arts and design.

Acquiring and using language

Setting aside for the moment formal tuition of the kind schools seek to provide, I believe that the key to language development from the earliest stages is the quality of interactions with someone who is more able in the use of language. Where this can be a person to whom the learner has a strong bond, the outcome is more powerful still. The provision through interactions of models of language whether in listening, talking, reading or writing is critical. Very young children, I believe, grow their vocabularies and how to use them by observing and replicating what they see those close to them doing. When, for example, the need to point to something they are interested in is replaced by the ability to ask for it, this represents a huge step forward. Where the models for such acquisition are plentiful and rich – including nuances of tone or alternative vocabulary – then progress is likely to be rapid, especially if opportunity, time and encouragement are present. When such modelling is neither present nor encouraged then progress will almost certainly be slow. It is interesting to consider how today the main models for spoken language – concerning hearing talking through listening – come via television or a computer-based technology where the nature of any interaction is very different from a traditional conversation or discussion. Children today are probably more used to listening to a variety of sources and media, often competing. It can be helpful where appropriate to specify a focus for listening. Similarly, when developing talking, sharing what has been heard in a focused way with referencing to points made by others can help discussion skills. Assisting learners to express themselves and to present their ideas is an important life skill. Again, children will benefit from positive models of listening and talking and from seeing that their contributions are valued.

Reading is something which many children do not witness. For adults to be seen reading in the home is rare. Even then, while the mechanics, the holding of the book, orientation, turning pages and so forth, can be observed only a few outward manifestations of the impact of reading – for example a smile of frown – can be seen. Functional reading may be more often seen than a longer text but is likely to be transitory. Again, the child from an advantaged home starts well ahead from one where in the midst of struggles to survive there is little time or money to provide models of behaviour or of products, books and texts of any kind.

The situation with reading is further complicated by the unique position it holds in the eyes of adults and children alike in delineating progress at school. The use of core reading schemes, of almost any kind, has pluses and minuses but one strength, which can also be a problem, is that it makes clear where the reader is, or seems to be, on the progression through the scheme. It Is the very stuff of many parent-parent chats, “Jack’s on Level 5 now” says the smiling mum to the neighbour whose child is carrying home Level 4. And children know it too of course. That progress isn’t usually on a simple steady gradient is well documented but again can cause concerns, specially where terms like ‘behind’ start to be used. Only today I encountered on Twitter comment from a newly qualified doctor from Cambridge saying how once she was described as being ‘behind’ with her reading.

There was a remark by Margaret Donaldson that, among many, impacted on me at the outset of my professional involvement in education and it was the idea that children, notably young children, are learning all the time and that, in a sense, this can’t be turned off. What they are learning is, of course, the key question. I have always railed at the idea that we specify aims and from these objectives then proceed to teach and that’s what is learned. I have no problem in trying to be clear as teachers what we hope children will learn so as better to plan how we’ll go about matters but what they learn may well be something different, even if our objectives seem to be met. Some of this can be delightful, for instance when a child notices a pattern in words that has not been part of the lesson. Sometimes children can bring to bear additional information from some extra experiences they have had. Making connections is hugely significant and good teaching will value contributions and use them, making explicit what might not be immediately clear to others. However, we need also to be aware that the child – compelled almost as they are – learns much else simultaneously. This can include how to appear engaged when they have drifted off to ‘dream’ or, to be kinder to them, reflect on and refine other aspects of their lives. They can learn that their ideas are readily welcomed or not. They discover that some of their peers are highly regarded while they are not, they seldom are asked to contribute, their ideas are laughed at, and so forth. Ascertaining their worth and standing in a learning context is a vital part of what children apprehend and this process is taking place from the very beginning. When they start to encounter ‘learning to read’ at school too many are not sustained in their image of themselves as likely successful readers.

Not all learning takes place within a school or pre-school setting. Those professionally employed as educators will have children who differ, often greatly, in the range and quality of prior experiences including with language. Some may have great richness, some considerable paucity, some may not have English as a first language and it may not be used at home. The challenge for the teacher – and here I use ‘teacher’ specifically as it relates most closely to the reality of almost all children – is therefore a daunting task in order to make an authentic difference.

I have used, witnessed, encouraged and inspected a range of approaches to early reading. I have read about some others and discussed methods with interested and sometimes expert people, from students to professors. I have never been a zealot – and such exist – for any particular approach rather seeing the crucial factors being the ability to have regular quality time for interaction on a text that matters to the learner. When the collaboration involves a skilled practitioner then the effect is enhanced.

In my consideration of language acquisition, I return time and time again to the importance of contexts. I believe that learning is quicker and longer lasting where the setting is meaningful to the learner and, ideally, engenders interest, commitment and pleasure. The drudgery of toiling through pages of worksheets and exercises is neither effective nor without collateral damage. I believe there are methods of teaching reading – or any aspect of language – which crush the desire ever to read, speak or write again.

While many of us who take a professional interest in education would argue for and strive to promote the use of language as a worthwhile pursuit, indeed a source of pleasure throughout a lifetime, we need to be careful to recognise that this may not be what everyone seeks. There are those who will not elect to read, write or engage in discussion, very often preferring perhaps other means of communicating such as art, movement, making music, or practical activities using their hands. We must see such choices as wholly valid.

Nonetheless, such is the central importance of verbal language that it behoves us as educators to do what we can to empower learners in its use so that the choice at least exists. Reading particularly is vital to learners as they progress through the tiers of education. A young person moving from primary to secondary school without a good level of reading ability is very likely to struggle with the texts upon which courses are based. Later in many further and higher education courses, especially in the humanities or social subjects – though these may today be decreasing – the ability to engage in discussion is an important ability.

Writing has always proved to be a problematic area. Talking through ideas, providing it is not overdone, can be a productive way of releasing ideas and building a desire to write. In engaging learners in writing, it is important that they have a sense of audience and purpose. Initially, of course, they are their first readers and where the teacher can so organise as to be able to interact meaningfully with the developing writer close to the point of writing then progress is maximised. Too often responses to writing in school regress to stock comments – “Too much use of and”, “Remember full stops” etc. – removed in time and relevance from the act.

Writing is an aspect where the creation of text was rarely witnessed by others and so the learner had no model of the process. When teaching, I would try to open up the activity by talking through as I wrote, amending ‘live’, and trying to engage the learners witnessing the procedure. This is difficult to accomplish or sustain in a class situation. Providing a range of written models is easier but many teachers still find that the pressures on managing a large class incline them to resort to published ‘schemes’. Working with learners on the nature of different texts is often replaced by written exercise-based chores. This is understandable but regrettable.

Contemporary innovations and future trends

In more recent times, technology has had a dramatic effect on language acquisition, notably I believe on writing and reading. When word-processing became possible, it greatly improved the opportunities for redrafting text, not simply making it look better but allowing the writer to reflect on it and formulate changes over time; a process which should allow for both a better piece of writing and an enhanced understanding for the writer. That this possibility is not well used in schools is unfortunate.

The coming of the misnamed mobile ‘phone’ has again impacted quite dramatically. I can still remember a teacher saying to me that children just didn’t write any more (not sure how much they ever did) and I’d arrived at the school via a train on which almost every young person was keying in text at a furious rate. The mobile has radically changed the nature of writing and consequently reading. For many, speech is infrequent on their mobile ‘phones’ having been replaced by messaging using one or more apps. The nature of this writing is very different with such features as predictive text and a host of abbreviations. Some of the language thus generated is already being absorbed into artistic forms as well as becoming widespread in business and social interactions. Little of this is taught. It is learned because of its context and relevance to those using it and the models peers provide. It is dynamic and fast in evolving. The young are usually more adept and I suspect that there are now more disputes over hashtags than the Oxford comma.

For last year’s words belong to last year’s language

And next year’s words await another voice.”

(Four Quartets – T. S. Elliot)

Footnote: Nick Pepin taught for 10 years in primary schools in Glasgow, Cumbernauld, the Shetland Isles and Arrochar. He was Headteacher of three schools before becoming Lecturer in Primary Education at Jordanhill College of Education. His innovative staff development work, particularly in all aspects of language development, gained him a national reputation. He was a member of the committee which produced the national report on Education 10-14 and was a National Development Officer for the Primary Education Development Project

In 1990, Nick was appointed HM Inspector of Schools. During his 20 years with HM Inspectorate he held posts of responsibility for Early Years, Creative and Aesthetic subjects and as Depute Director of the Audit Unit. He drafted the report on The Education of Children Under Five in Scotland and led a European Commission project involving 9 countries on approaches to quality assurance in education. Latterly, he was District Inspector for North Ayrshire, Inverclyde and South Lanarkshire. He has inspected extensively in pre-school, primary and secondary schools, aspects of teacher education, and the provision made by education authorities.

Accomplishments Education for All General Inclusive education Learning Teaching skills

Education Really Matters: Pathways to Justice and Peace

Frank O’Hagan

Can the power of education ‘give peace a chance’?

How can educationalists address the question of why – when in modern times we have witnessed so much progress in terms of academic research, scientific discovery and technological achievements – humankind is so frequently unsuccessful at establishing and maintaining pleasant and cooperative conditions for everyday life? Of the many sayings coming down from Confucius, one which is certainly worthy of consideration goes along the lines of ‘Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.’ In what ways then can education promote self-assurance and trust and, in turn, contribute to peace and concord in society?

Harmful emotional reactions, standpoints and behaviours are not necessarily fixed and constant attributes; they can be modified in positive directions by stimulating and constructive learning environments. Young persons deserve opportunities to develop sympathetic impulses and mature, well-balanced outlooks. If they build and cultivate candid and honest ‘growth mindsets’, they can become more skilled at meeting challenges and postulating possible routes for settling disagreements. Educationalists have important roles to play in putting forward balanced and open frames of reference from which dialogue can begin to explore problematic situations in a detailed and objective fashion.

21st September

Peacefulness –benefits to be found at personal, social and national levels

Peace of mind. At a personal level, tutoring and support can act as a foil against threats to safety and welfare by drawing attention to unsafe risks in hectic, frenzied and over-productive lifestyles. Selected themes and topics for reflection often lessen unwanted internal pressures, enhance self-care and encourage relaxation strategies. Additionally, guidelines and content in this domain have a significant spin-off when they highlight and boost sought-after personality traits relating to self-knowledge, insight and goodwill. These may cover: high-quality judgment and decision-making; tolerance of and respect for others; proficiency in arbitration and conflict reduction; and the virtue of forgiveness which, unsurprisingly, happens to be associated with wellbeing and mental health. It is evident that acts of moderation and solicitude are crucial in the context of interpersonal dissension. The processes of negotiation and conciliation, coupled with compassion, in any form of altercation can manoeuvre to peaceful conclusions and amity on all sides. Resulting rewards include affirmative feelings such as gratification, contentment and sense of belonging.

Peace within families and communities. Building warmth and cohesiveness in and across groups demands attention from one and all. A holistic stance – encompassing the involvement of children and young people, families, schools, colleges, and their localities – is desirable. This perspective advocates that it is wrong not to care about a wide spectrum of household and regional issues which includes intercultural tensions, racial discrimination and unfair employment practices. It regards our biases and narrow-mindedness, to some extent at least, as a cause of communal disunity. Simply wanting to sit on the fence is not an option. Nor is peace without social justice. A shared commitment – facing up to bigotry and unscrupulous customs and progressing with the objective of implementing purposeful substitutes – is not only advantageous but a key requirement. As a consequence, the function and strength of education to provide a comprehensive focus on seeking and appraising remedies should be exploited.

Peace amongst nations. Conflicts and hostilities produce so much misery and destruction in their wake with the innocent and uninvolved, time and again, suffering most severely. In war, even those with supposed right on their side have been known to commit terrible atrocities. Education for peace makes it possible for all of us to comprehend more fully the drivers which bring about rifts between states – poverty and unfairness, corporate greed, climate change and so forth. It can empower learners to reflect, not only on their own individual goals, but also on how to make their civilisations and nations safer and happier. It allows them to move on from self-centred considerations to an in-depth understanding of the responsibility which everyone has in building connectedness at a global level.

“I think that people want peace so much that one of these days governments had better get out of the way and let them have it.”
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1959)

Education as a vehicle for creating and reinforcing respect and trust

The exploration and promotion of peaceful co-existence can take place in our educational institutions by utilising a variety of informative approaches. At all phases, care needs to be taken to ensure that the values of harmony and camaraderie are presented in an age-appropriate manner. For nursery children, these could include story-telling, role play, establishing friendship bonds and triggering collaborative behaviours. As pupils move through the stages of primary education, suitable engagement in areas such as reading, art, drama and project work, comprising both bygone and prevailing events, will extend their knowledge and appreciation of choices for resolving needless turbulence in daily living.

Similarly for adolescents, peace might be a topic in its own right in personal, social and health education (PSHE), wellbeing or psychology as well as incorporated into curricular areas. By its nature it might be organised – particularly in the early years of secondary education – as a cross-curricular theme embracing a range of subjects, for instance: English, the arts and historical studies. In literature, both novels and poetry could provide highly illuminating insights about the origins and outcomes of conflicts; in music, prejudice and reconciliation could be investigated via protest ballads and anti-racist songs; in art and design, posters and paintings could demonstrate the horrors of cruelties or the delights of public accord; and in history, students might be asked to examine recent attempts to establish pacts with regard to international disputes or the reasons behind outbreaks of civil unrest in past ages.

As youthful minds try to come to terms with societal divisions, they strive to obtain solutions to bothersome predicaments. Why is there a lack of openness, integrity and humility among leaders and spokespersons of rivalling causes? How do obstinate and untrue perspectives sustain so much mistrust and belligerence across divided sectors in modern-day society? Why is ‘fake news’ a powerful scourge of honesty? Young people (indeed all of us!) need opportunities to confront falsehoods and inflammatory remarks, including those disseminated to support or incite animosity against beleaguered groups. At national and international levels, the manner in which politicians or military commanders make use of jargon, including stigmatisations and superficial slogans, about hostilities is worthy of analysis. Exemplars of this modus operandi can be found in expressions like ‘friendly fire’ and ‘collateral damage’ when casualties are shown to have been innocent bystanders. Similarly, pupils can pinpoint devious and furtive statements circulated in misleading explanations or excuses which attempt to provide moral justification after horrendous mistakes have occurred.

Appositely-chosen teaching blocks dealing with common issues about collective welfare will connect with learners’ worries and concerns. Programmes of study which are aimed specifically at fostering citizenship or probing parochial controversies can profit greatly if due account is taken of the recurring cultural circumstances which both juveniles and their parents are experiencing. At a time of ethnic unrest in a school’s catchment area, it could be vital to place a robust emphasis on intercultural empathy and respect in order to boost positive relationships among those from differing backgrounds. Teachers can outline scenarios illustrating the value of empathetic interventions in communities and the benefits of peaceful co-existence. While it may be fanciful to expect immediate or all-embracing answers, current matters relating to bias and discrimination within and between neighbourhoods can be addressed tactfully and judiciously resolved. Open-ended discussion is one worthwhile tactic for ascertaining the motives underlying dogmas and ideologies which sponsor or endorse quarrelsome behaviour, radicalisation and terrorism.

“Justice is truth in action.
Benjamin Disraeli (1851)

Hopeful steps forward to joy and goodwill

Proponents of the ‘violence paradox’ contend that levels of warlike hostility have declined over the ages by means of better governance, advances in social equality and respect for human rights. Of course, this is not to deny that more caring and benevolent norms and traditions ought to be strengthened further. Such headway would be welcomed in well-ordered, liberal societies throughout the world. However, history teaches us that – without warning – stability, cooperation and warmth can disappear and should not be taken for granted. There are various helpful methods, at times overlapping, for prompting awareness and incentives towards a deeper perception of altruistic and philanthropic behaviours. Four of these are touched on sketchily in this section.

Problem-solving strategies. These call for students to: analyse alternative outlooks; research aspects of frailty and weakness in our global family; and suggest options which point to improvements. They also pose questions about moral issues concerning prejudice, poverty, malnutrition, torture, and on customs which permit antagonism to thrive. Violence, when contagious, requires urgent solutions. Problem-solving sessions may provide a springboard for ideas to emerge – the likes of ‘safe streets’ initiatives to counteract unprovoked attacks in disorderly quarters or how ‘contact theory’ has been applied, as with sports, in trying to reduce sectarianism. Additionally, developments in new technologies – for example, the use of drones or robots in so-called ‘cutting-edge’ warfare – undoubtedly call for youthful thinkers to adopt fresh approaches with respect to ethical deliberations. In lessons, while taking due account of the abilities and maturity of learners, challenging questions can be raised. ‘What are the powerful forces which promote tension and trouble in our locality?’ ‘How insightful are we be about the attitudes and ill feelings of opposing factions?’ ‘Can we understand how wild conspiracy theories might have arisen?’ ‘What could we do as agents of change to counter deceitfulness and misinformation?’ Pupils are often found to be skilled in identifying barriers to equity, diversity and inclusion and in outlining well-thought-out recommendations to augment a culture of impartiality and truthfulness.

Teamwork. Assignments produced by partnerships examining the nature of peace, aggression and confrontations offer opportunities for youths to whet their investigative talents. There is a multitude of motivational themes and subjects for collaboration with effectual use made of statistical data, documentaries on contemporary interests and records kept in libraries. Attention can be directed as to how best to evaluate political arguments or national concerns. Such chores enable students to think creatively about how remedies can be found and purposeful, evidence-based mediation implemented. One line for scrutiny could aim at verifying how certain occurrences or situations – abuses of civil rights, criminal networks, climate change, trade wars, victimisation because of religious beliefs, etc. – have given rise to conflict and international hostilities. In some cases, coursework might be related to the endeavours of historical figures – Bertha von Suttner (1843 – 1921) who was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for Peace, Mahatma Ghandi (1869-1948) and his philosophy of nonviolent resistance, or more recent well-known advocates who have resisted brutality and sought concord.

 ‘Slow thinking’/ ‘Slow speech.’ These terms are sometimes used, not to highlight the speed with which reasoning takes place, but rather to stress the need for thoughtfulness and attention to detail, especially in taxing situations. Tranquillity and open-mindfulness allow areas of dispute to be reviewed from the perspectives of diverse sides. Individuals or groups ‘agree to disagree’ while expressing their attitudes honestly. Antagonists consent to remain on speaking terms and to ensure that interactions do not become unfriendly or intimidating. Learning tasks examine why the manner in which people exchange feelings, facts and opinions is of great consequence. Words, jargon and context carry emotive weight as when careless or imprudent remarks, albeit when made in jest, become an unintended cause of discord. In fragile conditions, they easily lead to resentment, indignation or create an excuse for an opponent to justify a breakdown in further dialogue. In contrast, trustworthy undertakings will foster reflection on what attributes might be developed in order to negotiate and treat rivals with proper dignity and integrity. In a calm and serene climate, peace may come ‘dropping slow’.

 Conflict resolution. An added interesting approach has been the deployment of responsive systems which encourage negotiation and reconciliation. Ideally, and very briefly, these methods involve the enhancement of competences in listening, interpreting differences and seeking common ground in a flexible and even-handed manner. Two confronting parties, in turn, have the opportunity to express their views as clearly as possible. After a presentation, the other side then reflects its particular understanding of what has been conveyed. The process can be repeated, with the assistance of a facilitator, to clarify perspectives and sort out misapprehensions. In this way, both units have opportunities to explain their positions and pinpoint the divergences which need further elucidation. Overall aims are to define the benefits of agreement and identify the procedures by which divergences can be settled, or at least accepted, in a harmonious fashion. In discussions, it may be appropriate to refer participants to the function of formal truth and reconciliation commissions in attempting to ensure that restorative deeds and fair-mindedness prevail.

Concluding comments

In general, though they may not always articulate what is of importance to them, children and young people have shared interests in their futures and in how living circumstances can be improved. Through example and meaningful learning, they develop a deeper respect for values associated with kindness, tolerance and supportive interpersonal connections. The study of bridging frayed relationships contributes to investigating and mapping out how everyone – by means of realistic, open and justifiable courses of action – can advance solicitous and compassionate practices. It challenges simply maintaining ‘normality’ (whatever that might mean?) and focuses on enabling humanity to flourish. When fulfilled, its outcomes relate closely to wholesome mental health and wellbeing and are characterised by the endorsement of an authentic dedication to the pursuit of collective happiness.

“Happy those who are persecuted in the cause of right: theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
(Matthew 5:10)

Effective and worthwhile schoolwork concerning JUSTICE and PEACE can be summarised as consisting of: Promotion of positive values; Enthusiasm and drive for upgrading friendships and alliances at personal, communal and national levels; Acceptance of evidence-based research regarding what needs to be undertaken; Commitment to delving into how ground-breaking transformations can be accomplished; and Engagement in activities which further inclusiveness and harmony. To be achieved successfully, this agenda presents a complex and demanding set of tasks for educationalists. Hopefully, their endeavours will lead to highly enriching results for learners of all ages; the fruition of their aims is vital for the greater good of communities and civilisations.

(Frank O’Hagan previously was the Adviser of Studies to Bachelor of Education students at the University of Strathclyde. Later, he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education.)

Accomplishments Education for All Inclusive education Learning

Education Really Matters: The Mental Health of Children and Young Persons

Frank O’Hagan

“In the depths of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.” Albert Camus (1913 – 1960)

A real-life scenario (amended to ensure confidentiality)

Assessment, observations and background information of the primary school child clearly indicated that she was experiencing worrying features of adverse childhood experiences (ACE) and confusion. During her early years, she had been severely neglected by her natural parents. Some of the treatment to which she had been subjected could be described as akin to torture. As a result, she had been taken into care. Both the child’s new parents and school were perturbed by the scarcity of professional backing available to help them in their endeavours to address her evident distress. Her mother, when interviewed, concluded a moving description of concerns about her adopted daughter’s mental health by saying, ‘We thought that love was all that was needed to put things right. But love is not enough.’ The power of her affectionate, yet despairing, poignant remark has remained with me.

 Things can only get better?

The subject of provision has been and remains a fraught and troubled topic with many issues requiring to be investigated and settled in a satisfactory manner. I hold it to be a scandal that so many young persons are denied crucial direction and left to fend for themselves. A brief sample of pertinent questions would include the following. Has too much emphasis been given to medication at the expense of psychological contributions and care? Can educational inputs bring about significant changes for the better? How far can resources be moved from institutional settings to community-based services? How should society develop effective intervention and rehabilitation strategies across families, schools and communities?

In recent years, there has been considerable criticism of what has been called the ‘medical model’ or ‘disease model’ as having placed excessive concentration on diagnosis followed by associated types of prescriptions. In this conceptual framework, problems pertaining to mental health have tended to be viewed as an illness in search of pharmaceutical remedies. Convincing arguments have been put forward to beware of medical domination at the expense of relevant alternative factors. For instance, there have been serious misgivings about the levels of drug use recommended for childhood depression or disruptive behaviour, especially when not accompanied alongside supportive therapies. In contrast, an ‘individualised psychosocial approach’ would place a sharper alertness on sensitive and nuanced judgments which are more tailored towards meeting personal, emotional and social prerequisites. It suggests that there are dangers in treating mental pain as if it was merely a bodily ailment which can be ‘cured’. Better to listen to what individuals want to convey and to take a holistic stance by focusing on their overall wellbeing and burdens, upbringing and educational attributes, interests and friendships. This latter school of thought also highlights the roles of positive family and community alliances and participation.

Psychosomatic upset can occur in various contexts such as inadequate parenting, physical or sexual abuse, victimisation, racism, substance dependency or other traumatic mishaps. There is little doubt that the force of environmental ills, including deprivation and inequality, can have a devastating impact on welfare and feelings of security. However, the causal effects are not always apparent as individuals might respond differently within similar situations. Nonetheless, regardless of the origins or causes, society ignores the necessities of vulnerable young people at its peril. The outcomes of abandonment pose hazards not only concerning their futures, safety and happiness but also because of long-term communal and economic consequences. The good news is that there appears to be an increasing acceptance of the fact that there has been a lack of attention given to the requisites of children and young persons who are experiencing mental suffering. Their struggles rightly are being considered with disquiet from both national and global perspectives by many commentators.

Understanding, Kindness, Compassion, Action

Promoting good mental health

Education authorities have indispensable duties to undertake in ensuring that schools and colleges are compassionate and empathetic organisations with staff adroit in identifying and assisting students who are living through unresolved or previously hidden anxieties. At the same time, it would be absurd to keep piling additional tasks relating to mental wellbeing into the remits of educationalists without ensuring that there are sufficient means and opportunities for continuing professional development. Adequate funding, training and supervision must be made accessible, particularly for those engaged in pastoral care, in order to acquire effectual skill sets.

Staff are frequently the first to raise their apprehensions about the emotive state or unusual mannerisms of a pupil in turmoil. They can provide an insightful starting point for feedback from parents and external experts in a process of healing and restoring an attitude of belonging. Usually, early intervention is highly desirable as is proficient communication among all those involved, including the young persons and their families. Three common approaches – focusing on counselling, cognitive behaviour therapy and mindfulness respectively – can be effective. Very general descriptions of them are outlined in the appendix. It should be noted that they do not suit everyone and may take different forms when employed in separate settings. Of importance is regarding personal, biological and psychological aspects holistically rather than responding as if these were isolated features. Furthermore, scarcity of resources and delays in referrals underline the value of having community-centred schemes which advance advocacy and teamwork.

Teachers will realise that life in school can give rise to detrimental strains such as unwanted or dishonest demands from peer groups or excessive expectations to achieve high grades in national examinations. Some staff will be highly adept in managing procedures and coordinated processes with respect to individualised safeguarding and child protection. For instance, they can contribute to assessing risks, keeping records and formulating oversight of clearly stated objectives. However, without extra collaboration from external agencies, there often will be no irrefutable guarantee that their efforts will lead to fitting and faultless courses of action.  

Making educational inputs more beneficial? 

It is a given that education’s role is to provide stepping stones towards establishing and maintaining learners’ esteem and dignity – and certainly not to contribute in any way towards erecting potential stumbling blocks. Many elements of a school’s curriculum offer useful platforms to investigate ways in which the societal stigma associated with mental health might be reduced. Relevant inputs enable pupils to come up with ideas about how to extend empathy and tolerance in both school and the wider community. Topics on personal, social and health education can convey clarification and guidelines on how to manage difficulties pertaining to anxiety, tension, hostility and hurt.

Engagement in activities dealing with composure, competences and decision-making all have a place in strengthening emotional buoyancy. Together, inspirational teaching and authentic learning advocate and promote: satisfying lifestyles; sensible eating habits; staying fit; self-compassion; affirmative relationships; connectedness within society; and skills in obtaining necessary support. Age-appropriate projects – for instance, on healthy routines, citizenship, relaxation exercises or confidence-building – also present those in need with opportunities to come to terms with particular dilemmas which might perturb them. Membership in sports, art, dance and other interest groups during recreational periods can do much to foster mutual understanding, empower resilience and endorse a sense of camaraderie. Well-delivered lessons, discussion sessions and contributions from visiting specialists offer diverse outlooks and challenges to enhance self-worth and to boost fortitude during times of stress.

There have been snags with the introduction and continuity of contemporary forms of assistance as teenagers grow older, move on from school and enter adulthood. These too ought to be highlighted and settled. Designated teachers with responsibilities for informing adolescents of services which are available for care and back-up after leaving formal education are essential. One conceivably vulnerable cluster of youths running the risk of experiencing long-term behavioural problems or mental health discomforts are those not in education, employment or training (a recommendation – let’s render the unfortunate acronym of ‘NEET’ obsolete). Productive routes for action including work placements and follow-up programmes to evaluate progress are required. Without a comprehensive strategy, an unacceptably high cohort of young adults with budding abilities and talents could be marginalised. 

Depending on circumstances, traumatic incidents – such as a tragic event in a learning community or its catchment area – may have an enduring impact on an individual or a peer group. An important factor is how well key staff respond with sympathy and proficiency in their tactics when dealing with such challenges. Can they discern the ordeal and its level of pain as perceived by students? Probe, and if apposite, share views and enable them to detect possible solutions? On occasions, from a very testing and tense state of affairs, both learners and staff can discover personal capacities and inner strengths of which they previously had been unaware. 

Getting by with a little help from our friends?

All forms of curative or restorative endeavours profit from sensitivity, kindness, flexibility and, critically, an attentiveness to the prospective risk of adverse effects. Skilled practitioners are well placed to cooperate with staff in schools, for example by introducing tried and tested counselling methods with teenagers. What frequently has been missing is consistent, joined-up partnerships across strategic groupings – including teachers, social workers, police, psychologists and psychiatrists – involved in the general guardianship of those exhibiting onerous quandaries. Institutional rigidity is a perilous occurrence.  So often, in official reports on breakdowns regarding the proper protection of vulnerable children, the lack of adequate communication is cited as one of the reasons for failures. Conversely, the stimulus of effective solidarity can result in advancing shared goals, reducing complex and bureaucratic protocols, and extending best practices.

Through responsive styles in tackling the challenges encompassing an individual’s or a family’s pressures and predicaments, combined support teams can reach a speedy consensus on planning and in delivering beneficial advice and direction. Ideally, they will operate through evidence-based policies, deal with links between physical and mental health, and be in a position to restructure provision to match identified requirements. In this process, a well-placed teacher may have the principal tasks of closely monitoring variations such as behavioural improvements during the school day and of reporting back on progress. If additional supervision is necessary, nominated personnel can take steps to ensure that they are ready and willing to unite forces with those who appreciate their expertise. All have to be aware of who is acting as ‘lead coordinator’ and of the implications of shouldering collective responsibilities.

” … the only thing we have to fear is fear itself -” Franklin D Roosevelt (1882 – 1945)

Reasons to be cheerful?

Unfortunately, there is no ‘magic bullet’ or straightforward Holy Grail to pursue when responding with thoroughness and commitment to all those children and adolescents who are encountering difficulties in connection with mental health. As suggested earlier, it would be a mistake to regard their setbacks as simply an illness; their everyday environments and debilitating lived experiences also must be taken into account. Nevertheless, a central aim of this article has been to indicate that much can be achieved by dedicated staff in learning communities. Effective therapeutic networks will help to lessen inflated demands to ‘fix’ or ‘cure’ troublesome situations through untested or unavailable interventions. Constructive contributions offering hopeful pathways can bring about life-enhancing changes. These include:

  • building and augmenting ‘can do’ mindsets through providing a positive and optimistic interwoven mix of an empathetic learning ethos, effective pastoral care and well-judged tasks and leisure activities
  • avoiding fads and concentrating on reliable and advantageous tactics which cultivate and refuel confidence, decision-making and self-worth
  • celebrating both small and significant steps forward, particularly when young persons are going through periods of discomfort and darkness
  • arranging successful involvement and events in conjunction with external organisations – health practitioners, sports clubs, charities, voluntary societies, and so forth – to ensure suitable ongoing assistance at weekends and during holidays.

Concluding comments

So, was that young caring mother correct when she implied that love was not enough? Love is certainly of immense value but its impact can be greatly enriched when parents are aided by schools and appropriate professionals. Medication can be worthwhile but undoubtedly more reinforcement is needed to: help distraught youths to accept and understand their noticeable or hidden hardships; attend to the disturbing conditions in which they find themselves; enable them to overcome undesirable or injurious habits; participate profitably in relevant therapies; and reach a secure position where traumas, substance dependency or intra-personal conflicts can be dealt with successfully. Schools, along with families and external agencies, can and do commit themselves to embarking on productive efforts within the overall process of making life more tolerable and affirming. There are trustworthy and genuine strengths in the collaborative endeavours of united and altruistic teamwork. Often this ’collective love’ is what is really essential.

Positive thoughts help create positive lifestyles.

Appendix: Very brief summaries of three common supportive approaches worthy of further investigation and consideration

There are many forms of therapeutic interventions. In practice, distinct variations occur within and between them so different descriptions and styles exist. Care and training are strongly recommended in order to implement them competently and successfully. However, at times, it is advisable for individuals not to take part.

Counselling is sometimes described as a ‘talking therapy’ although I prefer to deem it to be a ‘listening and talking’ one. It is a dynamic, two-way interaction which is liable to suffer if both aspects are not functioning effectively. Young persons usually benefit from encouragement to be at ease, open up and join meaningfully in these sessions. When they do, they can develop a deep relationship and trust with their counsellor. Well-targeted use of questions may be employed to enable obstacles to be clearly expressed. Through welcoming the opportunity to discuss and examine their own personal dilemmas and distress, individually or in groups, participants can seek and hopefully find their own ways forward. Depending on the circumstances and the wishes of the young persons, this work can be undertaken in school or other locations.

Cognitive behaviour therapy is an umbrella term for a range of therapeutic methods which, as the term implies, focus on improving specific features of an individual’s processes of cognition and unsolicited behavioural impulses or outcomes.  Proponents contend that mental health problems, while being linked with set patterns of behaviour, are also influenced by emotional and cognitive factors. In general, they aim to clearly address difficulties arising from habituated and conditioned behaviours and spurious thoughts, ideas, moods and feelings. Their action-based practices are widely used to assist those experiencing a variety of psychological matters such as panic, suppressed anger, depression and eating disorders. Success can be achieved though challenging negative beliefs and enhancing positive thinking.

Mindfulness has much in common with Buddhist and meditational practices. It is associated with the development and cultivation of a person’s or group’s active, continuous, open and non-judgemental awareness. This state of mind is maintained and ‘flows’ from moment to moment as if in an ocean of peacefulness and contemplation. Attention is given to techniques relating to breathing, inner consciousness and relaxation. Advocates of this approach stress its usefulness in amplifying wellbeing and in alleviating various personal hindrances such as anxiety and constant worry. Both relevant guidance and extended, well-directed practices are recommended to reap the full advantages of its usage.

(Frank O’Hagan previously was the Adviser of Studies to Bachelor of Education students at the University of Strathclyde. Later, he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education.)

Education for All Inclusive education Learning Teaching skills

Education Really Matters: Saving the planet … and beyond

Frank O’Hagan

Carpe diem?

What are children and young persons to conclude from the many differing points of view which circulate about the future of planet Earth? Trump-like attitudes abound. Sceptics perceive activists as absurd and confused. Some proponents of the status quo harbour illusions of normality and stability as continuing onwards from decade to decade. Others simply tout spin over substance to cause distractions or attempt to kick thorny conundrums into the distance for future generations to grapple with and possibly resolve. Groucho Marx succinctly summarised this narrow-minded short-termism – “Why should I care about future generations? What have they ever done for me?” In contrast, there is what is sometimes referred to as ‘cathedral thinking’ or in other words ‘being good ancestors’. Our predecessors bequeathed exquisite buildings for us to admire. Can we, in turn, leave a delightful and healthy world as an inheritance to our descendants?  

The young can become confounded by the multitude of different opinions and pressures in circulation. They have a right to know what those in positions of responsibility at both local and national levels are proposing and must be allowed to voice their apprehensions. It is essential to respond to the significant doubts which they may wish to raise. Should there be regular publications of targets already missed, as well as having an agenda for future action? What more can politicians, environmental planners and business leaders undertake to make up for lost time? How critically do civilians scrutinise deficits in modern living and in what ways can they greatly improve the quality of everyday life? While these are legitimate questions for investigation, there are similar queries concerning youths’ own endeavours, and those of their families and communities, in lessening the dangers of climate change.

Obstacles to overcome

Educationalists will have specific principles to observe in order to provide clarification, elucidation and hopefulness for all age groups. While teaching may be aimed, either directly or indirectly, at outlining current progress and eliciting discerning feedback from pupils, care must be taken not to over-exaggerate. Guidance should ensure that learners grasp trustworthy facts and the outcomes of genuine, scientific research. Lessons and activities need to be well-judged and take due account of their abilities and stages of maturity. A focus on their investigative and problem-solving skills will boost motivation and confidence. As some might have felt perplexed and experienced a sense of helplessness through a succession of reports on the media, a warm and inclusive learning ethos can reduce emotional upset and help avoid deleterious impacts on mental wellbeing.

There have been numerous efforts to build an alertness of risks associated with the likes of extreme weather conditions or toxic fumes causing ill-health and early deaths in cities. However, some commentators have noted what has been called an ‘information deficit model’ – valid facts not known or understood – is still to be found in sectors of society. This is a separate phenomenon from that of the denial of indubitable facts and statistics. When such circumstances prevail, interest and inspiration can decrease. Nonetheless, it is apposite to not to ostracize either of these factions but rather to give time to examine the reasons underlying their prevalence. This standpoint facilitates opportunities to figure out how they came to adopt unconventional positions and to engage in dialogue.

What are the challenges which have to be overcome in improving our ecosystem?

Another obstacle is that the threats connected to climate change normally are not instantly noticeable and, as a result, treated as inconsequential. While it is relatively easy to understand the immediate menace of a global pandemic, the linkage between homes being flooded and carbon emissions is less obvious. By highlighting and explaining the gradual variations which are occurring and the requirement for long-term planning, perceptiveness can be increased and doubts resolved.

It is fortuitous that, when it comes to facing controversies, the well-known myth of ostriches sticking their heads in the sand when dangers loom generally does not apply to eager learners. They are cognisant of the message conveyed in this myth and have enough savvy to review and confront the predictions which envisage the destruction of Mother Earth. Let’s wish them every success!

A dynamic and comprehensive curriculum

Much closer attention is now being given to teachers’ knowledge and skills vis-à-vis sustainability. Additionally, the contributions of specialists in schools, further and tertiary education and industrial-related research substantially heighten awareness. While fully accepting the importance of formal qualifications, credit also has to be accorded to the value of other forms of educational inputs which encourage mindfulness and responsiveness in the 3 to 18 years-of-age range. There are identifiable features of coursework which are immediately suitable for inclusion. As well as providing vital information, they can delineate practical solutions and emphasise positive individual and collective roles for clear-sighted intervention.

The curriculum on offer requires to be all-embracing. It not only needs to extend beyond saving the biosphere but, furthermore, ought to include the numerous means through which contemporary living conditions can be upgraded. The topic of climate change is only one element, albeit a markedly important one, of a wider study encompassing the saving of our planet … and beyond. Its overall aim is the enrichment of the living environment for all humankind. Within this broader framework, a commitment on decarbonization towards net-zero emission targets can be regarded as a ‘saving’ aspect. When the agenda morphs into the creation of a truly healthier, greener and life-enhancing environment, objectives are magnified towards ‘saving and beyond’. Thus, a more comprehensive approach incorporates improvements to tackle poor living conditions, unhealthy diets, misuse of pesticides, destruction of sea beds from excessive dredging, the dumping of garbage and radioactive materials at sea, and the list goes on. It also contains suggestions for consideration on appropriate, eco-friendly involvement. Education really matters!

We are family – all in it together

We live in a common home and our society now has the opportunity to create a happier, safer and flourishing world. While teachers and tutors can partake meaningfully, it would be unreasonable to expect only education settings – nurseries, schools and colleges – to embark on this onerous task. Fortunately, there are many sources for learners to exploit over and above their formal curriculum – for instance: guidance from parents and guardians; the supportive influences of peers; enlightening books, newspapers and television documentaries; dedicated sites on social media; and sponsorships by organisations which focus on improving agriculture and fishing. Authentic, scientific data and advice are accessible from comparable founts of vision to endorse and hasten a beneficial, cultural transformation.

A detailed syllabus on this over-arching theme is exceptionally complex. For anyone even mildly interested in the subject, there is an extensive range of conventional and technical terms in general usage such as: greenhouse gases; carbon capture; environmentalism; ethical investment strategies; transparency on resourcing; sustainability; greenwashing; and recycling. Thoughtful reflection on the terminology can deepen our foresight and understanding of the difficulties which have to be appraised. Moreover, there is a very broad spectrum of relevant topics which takes in: the reduction in road and air travel; greater use of public transport; wastage of rare metals; pollution of land, sea and atmosphere; biodiversity; wind, marine and solar power; energy saving in homes and buildings; peat land preservation; and the traceability and purchase of food and goods.

This immense array of varied contents necessities a highly organised schedule across age bands and curricular areas in order to steer clear of duplication and to ensure maximum impact. It is commendable when schools have devised an inventory relating to the integration of learning prospects. Though these may seem arduous undertakings, the good news is twofold: staff in education are occupied already in this enterprise and, for pupils, their ensuing acquisition of comprehension and prescience guarantees advancement in terms of personal, social, emotional and cognitive development.

Love learning, love your planet

At the early and nursery phases, children form habits with regard to cleanliness, communication, personal safety, good manners and kindness to others. In creative and investigative play activities, they develop an appreciation of camaraderie, flowers, animals and parks. The value of an enjoyable and stimulating early education is undoubtedly of real benefit in fostering their respect and sensitivity towards their immediate surroundings and nature in general. Individual displays or in friendship groups, at times in the company of family members, can enable them to demonstrate their interests aroused by drawings, designs and photographs.

As pupils move through primary school, they have opportunities to learn more about everyday living and how to take good care of ecosystems. A firm basis for responsible citizenship is being established. Project work is often arranged to cover a wide variety of themes, allowing children to select, investigate and then share their findings. For example, on the fashion industry, they might examine disclosure as regards where goods are produced, what they are made from, the distance they travel before being sold, how well the workers are paid, whether these commodities are likely to be recycled or discarded, etc. Likewise, take the girl who reported that her investigation in an upper primary class had been on the damage caused by plastic waste. She mentioned that she had learned about an island of rubbish, larger than Britain floating in the Pacific Ocean, and the devastation of plastic to sea life. The following year, her class had taken part in a topic on rain forests with freedom to pick their own projects. Her skilful presentation had focused on the destruction of forests and its harmful consequences to biodiversity, including disturbance to animal inhabitants. This assignment promoted independent learning and touched on aspects of English, mathematics, biology, environmental studies and technology besides exploratory and fact-finding skills. All worthwhile and motivational.

The cross-curricular nature of ecology and green politics is evident throughout secondary education, an opinion forcefully made by a second-year teenager when interviewed, and requires effective cooperation from different departments. This characteristic holds the likelihood of deepening the understanding of complex issues though analysing them from separate perspectives. While STEM subjects are regarded as particularly pertinent – teaching about the efficient use of energy in physics or the production of ‘blue’ and ‘green’ hydrogen in chemistry – most subjects offer a great deal to explore. A few illustrations underline this point: business studies and economics highlighting how ethical investments can be advantageous for the environment; religious and moral education examining ways in which a united front on improving bionetworks can result in increased communal happiness; and art and design assisting in the production and distribution of imaginative posters or pamphlets for World Earth Day (22nd April).

Shouldn’t every day be World Earth Day?

Optimistically, by the time that students are leaving secondary school, they will be fully equipped to reflect expertly on perplexing dilemmas as migrations due to crop failure or tensions among nations arising from the pursuit of scarce commodities. They will have acquired the necessary competences to comment on how success and failure rates by governmental agencies should be published and judged. On occasions, they may feel obliged to monitor how mandatory requirements and subsequent penalties for non-compliance by individuals or public bodies are implemented. All being well, they will become the guardians urgently required to safeguard humanity.

Young people care, therefore they are part of the solution

If addressing climate change is urgent, why has headway been incoherent and tardy? It has proved to be comfortable to ‘talk the talk’ but considerably more challenging to ‘walk the walk’. The dominance of rationalism, following the philosophical dictum ‘Cognito ergo sum’ (I think, therefore I am) of Descartes, lingers on in some current thinking and still influences much of what takes place at major conferences. No matter how erudite the conclusions might be, if they lack pragmatism and empathy, they are of little value. The concept of ‘caring’ in this context implies not only appropriate degrees of perception and understanding but a steadfastness in implementing evidence-based responses.

While they await to find out in what manner those in positions of authority are prepared to move forward, the futures of juveniles are to some extent put on hold. It is clear that many adolescents feel obliged to call out for vigorous action to avoid planetary suicide. As responsible outspoken advocates, they deserve our praise. Recently, it was enlightening to hear one primary school girl earnestly supporting the view that children can spread ideas on good practices to a widespread audience in addition to their families. Another touching and impressive case of pupil power and influence was a children’s play which was attended, among others, by the wives of the President of USA and the Prime Minister of UK while the G7 Summit was taking palace in Cornwall in June 2021. Heartfelt messages must be heeded. Virtue-signaling by dignitaries – especially when lacking in genuine honesty and affirmation – is merely hollow and hypocritical.

Youths who have studied and understood impending perils – whether these link to pollution, unrestricted excess, climate change, a dearth of international collaboration, and the like – neither desire to propose utopian dreams nor to write death wish messages. They comprehend that there is no quick fix and also that some countries are already living on the edge of existence. An emergency has already arrived but positivity has not been vanquished. For them, false narratives, complacency and nihilist stances on future calamities being ‘too big to handle so live only for today’ are not acceptable. Learners know that, cherish it or not, they too are involved and have their parts to play. They identify themselves as global citizens and demand a ‘can do, make it happen’ mindset to be adopted.

Concluding remarks

Education locations, at all stages from nurseries to universities, are in a very powerful position to promote life-affirming policies and practices and to assist in reaching ambitious targets which have been agreed. They deserve the support of governments and scientific communities to further develop their programs of study on how to save and improve the condition of a planet in need of loving care and treatment.

Effective educational inputs can be regarded as valuable human assets which enable students to concentrate on constructive routines for facing challenges rather than becoming accustomed to feelings of disempowerment. Using their own research and critical thinking, youthful scholars are able to embrace the role of ‘learner as scientist’ in their search for explanations and answers. It is an energetic form of attentive engagement. As a consequence of their successful efforts, they come to realise that individual behaviours and human customs cause so much damage. They want more than warm words (‘Blah, blah, blah!’) – they demand positive action.

Through their studies, all understand that there are choices which can no longer be sidelined by society at large. They learn to reject procrastination, doom-purveying pessimists, fake news and pseudo-scientific buzzwords. They understand that people, including themselves, need to make informed decisions and to confirm that they are completed inside designated timescales. Many have proved that they are already a force for good and aim to ensure that their incremental steps will ultimately result in giant leaps forward.

(Frank O’Hagan previously was the Adviser of Studies to Bachelor of Education students at the University of Strathclyde. Later, he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education.)

Accomplishments Education for All Educational development Inclusive education

Education Really Matters: Social Deprivation and Education

Frank O’Hagan

How far have we progressed?

There is a painting in The Louvre in Paris entitled ‘The Clubfoot’ (also known as ‘The Club-footed Boy’) by Jose de Ribera who is renowned for his depictions of the human condition. It is a portrait of a vulnerable youth and conveys stark observations on both hardship and physical disability. There are differing interpretations concerning this magnificent and moving painting. These range from the view that it expresses dignity and defiance under duress to the opinion that it is a bitter comment on the degeneration of dutifulness and care. For my part, I think that both of these positions are credible and can be reconciled. Neediness gives rise to people displaying distinct features of perseverance and personal worth but also of melancholy and desolation.

Although De Ribera’s painting dates from over 300 years ago, to a large extent it reflects issues and conundrums relating to prevailing attitudes on destitution and misfortune among the underprivileged. It might be felt that we have advanced far as a society and that such adversities are now under control. While it is true that there have been many changes for the better, it would be foolish not to acknowledge that numerous challenges remain. Is it right to feel annoyed at the present state of educational provision for children who are deprived? How can we respond to and build on the capabilities and resilience of juveniles with significant needs?

Addressing poverty and marginalisation

A common misunderstanding is to equate communal affliction simply with financial deficiencies. Deprivation has many guises. It is a complex and intractable phenomenon which also covers affairs dealing with health and welfare, parenting, housing, infrastructure, urban and rural dysfunction, inadequate schooling and unemployment. Ironically, policymakers are generally aware of what should be undertaken to rectify recognised concerns. Mere tokenism occurring in officialdom ought to be treated as unacceptable.

All learners, regardless of age, require to: be well nourished; live in reasonably healthy and safe environments; be able to obtain essential services without major inconveniences; and be actively engaged in educational or training programmes which are aimed at enriching individual circumstances. Breakdowns pertaining to any these factors can result in distress coupled with a sense of hopelessness and, on occasions, of annoyance and anger. Education is a critical route in the direction of amending matters. The burden of responsibility also reaches across a wider spectrum of local and national administrative services.

Recent research and media outlets frequently refer to ‘hard to reach’ families and suggestions are offered on ways in which helpful dialogue can be initiated on their behalf. Though the term ‘hard to reach’ is usually well intended, it can sound rather patronising or even act as a label. If professionals are to use it, then the converse must be conceded: that they themselves also can be difficult to contact as far as needy people living in stressful situations are concerned. It is a two-way problem. One does not have to look too far to find a deep-seated lack of trust regarding specialist practices within disadvantaged groups. Care has to be taken to avoid inadvertently creating or reinforcing a sense of ‘us’ and ‘them’. Empathic responsiveness is imperative in ensuring that interventions are not perceived as holier-than-thou interferences.

Actions speak louder than words

It is too easy for the ‘haves’ to reproach the ‘have-nots’ as being lazy and short-sighted. The tendency of some is to assume that the fault exclusively lies with those who are suffering from impoverishment. For those in a privileged position, it is plain sailing to worry less as to the present and to be able to concentrate on long-term planning, for example, in saving for fees to cover the cost of their children’s future education. In contrast, when tackling the ubiquity of poverty, zealous educationalists aim to fix attention on social solidarity and the transformation of ill-fated, lived experiences. They take relevant account of contextual factors and never ignore the tribulations created by environmental tensions. They are fully aware of why their students are distracted by the makeshift and changeable conditions which they have to endure.

So, how can a rich and plentiful – but divided – society accurately take cognisance of and operationally counteract the impact of penury on educational opportunities and achievements? To initiate steps forward, there has to be a sincere political judgement of the hurdles being encountered. Approaches to overcoming barriers in pragmatic and realistic ways require to be both gimmick-free and, as far as possible, evidence-based. Some leaders in education have been going on about ‘closing the gap’ for a considerable time now, sometimes merely with the purpose of aiming ridicule at their opponents. Rather than empty words, no matter how heartfelt they are meant to sound, we need positive and efficient action.

Beware of the myths which surround the new paternalism of ‘up-levelling’. For a start, legislators cannot accomplish any substantial progress without the backing of low-income families, communities, schools and voluntary agencies. Available channels towards obtaining the most suitable kinds of resources and assistance are very limited in times of austerity resulting in a lack of sustainable livelihoods and cut-backs to public services. What is more, there is no single pathway which can overcome all the complications posed by societal ordeals. Without taking proper evaluation of, and responding positively to, the variations across the characteristics of young persons and their circumstances, schedules for improvements will falter.  

Key strategies for development and implementation

The cost of carrying out policies and projects is always an important factor. Additionally, their operation must focus on how to establish and maintain a high standard. Otherwise, devolved finances can be wasted on a valid idea which has been poorly executed. Nonetheless, various options are promising with the following eight proposals being offered for deliberation. Space only permits a very general outline of their content and functions.

1. Early identification and support. When experiencing restrictiveness due to existing in a state of paucity, it is little wonder that parents and guardians have much to deal with – for starters, managing to pay for food, rent and energy bills. As a result, infants can unwittingly receive insufficient attention or even suffer from neglect. All phases of human development are important and, given appropriate intervention, the previous negative effects of privation can be overcome. Inclusion, engagement and enjoyment are pertinent driving forces on the road to success. A nation’s focus must always be on the right of every individual to have the best possible start in life.

The ‘flexible’ mind is sustained by life-affirming opportunities to grow, develop and flourish. In particular, the pre-school years have been highlighted as a key period to help those from underprivileged backgrounds. It is a stage when both free play and organised activities can evoke interest and provide motivation to acquire autonomy, emotional suppleness, creativity and competences. It is also a time when fathers and mothers (a caution: the role of ‘fathering’ must not be side-lined) regularly need updates and are willing to discover more on positive nurturing skills. For many of their children, encouragement in ‘learning how to learn’ will be decidedly gainful while in pre-school provision and beyond.

2. Promoting resilience within family units and communities. The impact of want and malnutrition varies among youths and the influences of parental upbringing are complex. Collaborating with and empowering all residing in impoverished districts are essential. The bolstering of beneficial features – shelter, safeguarding, and compassionate care – can do much to strengthen youngsters in surmounting daily obstacles. Involvement in well-suited programmes should aim at breaking intergenerational cycles in respect of marginalisation, low expectations and academic failure.

Partnerships will be welcomed in connection with the overall enhancement of domestic life and in suggesting out-of-school pursuits, for example, adults and adolescents together profiting from advice on financial management covering topics on budgeting, welfare payments and the avoidance of debt. Unlocking concealed talents and indicating routes out of the entrapment of destitution must remain unwavering aims among all civic commitments.

3. Extending additional educational support. Schools under pressure warrant the means to ensure that they are not receptacles for passive acceptance of failures or shortcomings caused by administrative systems. If anything, it is fitting that they are sustained in a position of having even higher than normal expectations on behalf of their pupils. In the media, there are often tactless references to ‘failing schools’ and, over and over again, these appear to be serving poorer catchment areas. Educational establishments which have to meet with the demands posed by harsh economic conditions merit extra funds and should not be evaluated by the same academic criteria as others situated in more well-to-do locations. They have a claim on planned compensation as regards the allocation of teaching specialists to aid anyone encountering substantial difficulties and designated assistants to promote inclusive practices. The expansion of trained staff for literacy, mathematics and personal, social and health education in primary schools – and also in selected subjects in the secondary sector – should always be kept under review. Above all, it is valuable for the power of education be let loose to counteract misfortune by enabling learners to identify their troubles and, in time, to overcome them through gaining the knowledge and skills necessary to augment their wellbeing. The young have dreams and aspirations which deserve to be recognised and fully endorsed.

4. Developing communal integration and participation. There is a strong case for establishing more efficient and coherent services across health, education, social work departments and voluntary groups. Interventions aimed at alleviating disadvantage are obliged to be dynamic and multi-faceted in providing solutions across an extensive range of predicaments. Unfortunately, collaboration among agencies to develop and enrich distressed zones can be fragmented and time-limited. If information and directives are not competently distributed and understood in neighbourhoods, many may fail to know how best to become meaningfully involved. Perseverance, openness and transparency are indispensable ingredients for the implementation of constructive methods when engaging households in the process of improving the quality of everyday lives.

5. Effective use of public assets. The affluent and well-informed do make first-rate use of accessible municipal assets to supplement their children’s overall educational erudition. However, it would be expedient if there were more openings for everyone living in rundown localities to have better contact with these amenities and to benefit from them in genuinely purposeful ways. In general, insufficient use is made of the nation’s stock of regional resources to advance their chances for stimulating out-of-school learning. Museums, art galleries, libraries having computer-based facilities to counter ‘digital poverty’, historic monuments, science centres, sports programmes, apprenticeship courses, coaching schemes and the like can all be put to good use in reinforcing the drive and enthusiasm to succeed.

6. Utilising the expertise of altruistic volunteers. Another initiative aimed at narrowing the gaps in enterprise and scholarship is the deployment of unpaid helpers, including retired professionals, as mentors or advisers to interact constructively with young people. Thoughtful scrutiny is necessary to recruit from a wide variety of current or previous occupations and to select those who have the proficiencies which can inspire and transform lives. There are many conceivable inputs which committed citizens could contribute: tutoring to upgrade accomplishments in literacy, numeracy and technology; revising lessons during evening sessions; offering guidance on job interviews, employability skills and careers; preparing students for formal examinations in specific subjects; assisting with applications for tertiary education and the world of work; and so forth.

7. Increasing admissions to tertiary forms of education and training. The inhabitants of economically deprived surroundings require greater admittance into tertiary forms of education across colleges, universities, formal vocational courses, and industrial placements. For instance, it is well documented that places in universities for school leavers from the poorest districts remain stubbornly low despite much hullabaloo about this scandalous issue. More radical measures for estimating aptitude and academic ability are urgently needed. These could include better use of holistic assessment processes organised by universities and the commercial sector to gauge hidden flair and talents.  Instead of allowing a slide towards any lowering of standards – a topic which has been raised by some businesses – valid, alternative procedures for determining authentic potential in identifiable areas of instruction and study should be instigated. Of particular disquiet is the danger of teenagers not embarking on the most appropriate courses for entry into future, gainful livelihoods.  

8. Evaluation and accountability in the application of policies. As implied earlier, policy decisions and initiatives ought to have built into them a formal outline of data and predictions concerning the ‘socio-economic duty’ of the official bodies which hold the purse strings. These should include clearly stated targets and measures of what will be achieved with reference to the promotion of collective equality and the enhancement of occupational prospects. As plans are put into operation, they will entail impartial appraisal to ascertain how effectual they are in relation to what they set out to complete. Transparency and the addressing of unpalatable facts are fundamental in bringing forward essential improvements. Everybody has the right to be kept up-to-date on whether undertakings have matched expectations or fallen short of declared objectives.

Concluding remarks – or will we be fooled again? Further action research to identify the most proficient means of delivering and supplementing evidence-based methods would be advantageous. It is crucial to determine what combinations operate best and in what circumstances. It could be argued that all, or almost all, of the eight discussed strategies have been around for some time in one form or another with various levels of realisation. What have been missing are comprehensive, integrated and enduring forms of engagement which effectively eliminate the prerequisites of deprivation in different settings. We owe it to today’s pupils to ensure that promised solutions are fully executed and that they are not misled as were the generations which have gone before them.

How would the youth in Jose de Ribera’s portrait feel about the progress which has been made since his days as a street urchin? While, in general, being pleased with societal and educational developments, he may wonder why they have not been more successful. He may think that as long as there are dog-eat-dog economies – whether capitalist or communist – the poor and dispossessed will always be present. Nevertheless, I am sure that he would call for educational programmes and reforms which place a stronger emphasis on everyone’s worth, efficacy and dignity. He also might wish to highlight the prospective benefits in terms of wellbeing, happiness and economic advancement within a more unified and contented world.

Footnote: Other relevant articles in this series cover: quality in the curriculum; inspirational teachers; the promotion of authentic learning; potential, attainments and achievements; and diversity, equity and inclusion. For some links, please see below at “Related”.

 (Dr Frank O’Hagan previously was the Adviser of Studies to Bachelor of Education students at the University of Strathclyde. Later, he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education.)

Education for All Inclusive education Learning Teaching skills

Education Really Matters: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

Frank O’Hagan

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” (Nelson Mandela)

A dedication

Up to the time of her death, a beloved sister of mine was a teacher for more than 40 years, working almost exclusively with pupils from deprived backgrounds or those experiencing social, emotional and behavioural difficulties. When she started her teaching career in the 1960s there was such a shortage of teachers that her very large primary class had to be divided into two groups. On alternative weeks, one group attended a morning session and the other an afternoon session. Both groups were considerably larger than the average primary class of to-day. While bravely facing her imminent death, she still worried about young persons’ future lifestyles and lack of learning opportunities. Sadly, many of her fears have morphed into a reality – continuing austerity, low levels of literacy, feelings of alienation and a lack of employment prospects. As I jot down my views on diversity, equity and inclusion, my gratitude goes to her and the many teachers, educational psychologists and inspectors of education who have contributed to improvements in this field and with whom I have had the privilege to work.

The times are always a-changing

In recent years, although there have been changes for the better, concern about services for vulnerable pupils with diverse needs – who live amidst all sectors of society – continues to be a debated and disquieting issue for parents and educationalists. What is more, in periods of hardships and public cutbacks, this aspect of educational provision for our more disadvantaged students can be seen as an easy target for financial constraint and staff reductions. A range of workable strategies will be necessary to ensure that so many young people do not come to perceive themselves as enduring failures. 

Everyday attitudes about the characteristics of young learners alter and transmute, as do conventional stances regarding how their education should be subsidised and managed. These modifications are due to many different factors such as the impact of research projects, developments in teaching methods and advances in society’s views about the rights of children. Outlooks have evolved and perceptions have become more nuanced in a variety of ways. For instance, autism was once considered to be a very rare, one-dimensional and rather inexplicable disability. Nowadays, it is generally recognised as being much more prevalent and to be across an extensive and complex spectrum which comprises intellectual, linguistic, social and behavioural dimensions. Moreover, it is not unusual for pupils who have been assessed as on the autistic continuum to possess high levels of concentration and/or an in-depth comprehension concerning specific topics of interest.  Additional cultural swings have included a greater acknowledgement of the potential of many learners displaying attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to demonstrate positive cognitive features such as creativity.

There are many promising means of developing suitable and empathetic contexts which are truly beneficial for all young people. Through well-tailored, personalised learning programmes, recent findings in educational neuroscience have provided a more hopeful perspective on the capacity of students to adapt to the difficulties which they encounter. Thankfully, there is an evident willingness among professionals to face the very significant obstacles which have to be overcome.

The message is clear that ability is not a fixed entity and that pessimistic attitudes about capabilities regularly need to be confronted. Nonetheless, key questions remain. Has society the will and capacity to address issues relating to diversity, equity and inclusion? How can plans be focussed on success while retaining inbuilt flexibility and identifiable care?  Can educational systems have targeted interventions available to ensure that any apparent ‘breakdowns’ in levels of accomplishments can be quickly ameliorated?

Current challenges to inclusiveness

It is well nigh impossible to be unaware of the presence of diversity in modern society. It manifests itself in statistical surveys and in traditions and pretexts covering age, background, gender, ethnicity, ability, religion and so forth. It is our human melting pot containing both splendour and richness. It also can give rise to apprehension and unease has when individuals or groups are viewed as ‘others’ who are not fully entitled to the rights and privileges enjoyed by ‘in’ groups (a process sometimes referred to as ‘othering’).

Values – such as acceptance, appreciation and kindness – are elements of daily living to be treasured in education and training. Meeting the needs of diverse groups implies interconnectedness and cooperation in establishing universal rights and in building an equitable society. This stance calls for an end to greed, unrestrained capitalism and the continued destruction of Mother Earth. It stipulates that the voices of all students concerning their feelings and self-identified needs should not only be heard but be listened to attentively. Undoubtedly, there exist across our troubled world many obstructions to this vision which require urgent reform. Among an extensive list, depending on customs and place, it may be the disregard of the rights of children who are forced to work rather than be educated, the underachievement of poorer white male adolescents, or vocational openings being denied to students who are physically disabled.

Difficulties encountered, when teaching young persons with varying needs, are too often viewed as arising ‘from within’ or ‘belonging to’ them. From such perspectives, recognised learning problems can be treated as if they are owned by students and their private responsibility. Highly significant environmental factors – prejudices, the lack of adequate nutrition, impoverishment – are overlooked. Consequently, learners are not properly involved in decision-making but are subjected to pronouncements which are hoisted on them by way of a hierarchical system. Parents and guardians, due to their prior experiences, also can feel excluded and may need encouragement to build trust and become actively involved in combatting inequalities.

Skilled educationalists realise that many young people require basic but essential assistance in ‘learning how to learn’ in order to ensure future progress. Staff dedicated to inclusivity will have an expertise in: (1) creating warm and stimulating climates to facilitate headway; (2) establishing purposeful learners’ plans; (3) setting short- and long-term targets; (4) applying procedures relating to advice, guidance and support; and (5) providing motivational feedback to students, parents, guardians and other relevant parties. When acquired, pertinent skills – listening, collaborating, planning, problem-solving and coping mechanisms – can be transferred across curricular areas. It is critical that, for the prerequisites and characteristics of high-quality learning and teaching to be maintained, the capability and proficiency of staff are constantly upgraded through on-going professional development.

Every learner has the right to be included

All pupils deserve to be deemed worthy of making advancements at their own levels of attainment and capacities to learn. Various forms of integration have been implemented, for instance in terms of: locations; social arrangements and communal involvement; and functional and/or instructional settings. Genuine inclusive educational environments will fuse all such approaches into a cohesive and harmonious framework from which no student is excluded. Further, they extend to cover equitable opportunities for vocational training, employment placements and lifelong learning. The overriding philosophy must leave behind a previous ‘What are your problems and weaknesses?’ way of thinking and adopt an outlook which asks ‘In what ways can we assist you to enrich your attributes and extend your talents?’ Staff endorsing an all-encompassing ethos do not see themselves as working in ‘examination factories’. If necessary, they are willing to have fewer or no public accolades as regards their rankings in ‘fake’ national league tables.

When approaches to education are focused on the identified requirements of each learner, travel along productive and rewarding pathways to success is augmented. Along with this methodology, inclusiveness can be a strong catalyst in bringing about camaraderie among students of varying abilities and aptitudes. It follows that, if possible, they should not be cut off and isolated from their peers when undertaking tasks. Learners with diverse needs can expand their knowledge and skills fruitfully in hospitable pedagogic cultures. Authentic collegiate learning provides a sound basis for the cross-fertilisation of views on how they can assimilate information and benefit from new strategies on route to further accomplishments.

For educationalists to play an effective role, they have to challenge the status quo and provide the means of developing competences to overcome social and economic hardship. Programmes which cultivate both worthwhile qualities (for example, confidence, self-esteem, honesty and resilience) and relevant know-how (healthy living, money management, occupational capabilities and so forth) to enhance future chances are of the utmost importance. For these purposes, information and communication technology is helpful in nurturing learning and teaching and in addressing differing needs. At present, computer-based learning, though often very advantageous, is not a panacea. However, further innovations, as the quality of the machine-learner interface improves, augur high prospects.

All forms of educational provision require having well-defined roles, responsibilities and protocols in place for staff who are expected to respond to vulnerable students exhibiting risky behaviours, such as substance abuse, self-harm or noteworthy learning difficulties. Circumstances might necessitate the input of professional agencies which have clear remits to contribute at whole-school, group or individual levels of involvement. Short-term targets may focus on speedy improvements in attaining specific competences, expedited by time-limited, solution-based approaches to resolving pressing concerns. Longer-term objectives could embrace the acquisition of interpersonal skills and a sense of self-assurance. Indeed, for all, it is fitting to move forward well beyond existing hindrances and to encourage positive and rewarding lifestyles.

The dangers of labelling and classification

The drawbacks of labelling can include obscuring learners’ needs, making unwarranted assumptions about their abilities, and inadvertently depriving them of occasions to engage in inclusive practices. Labels also may have a negative impact on the confidence of teachers who might come to the erroneous conclusion that a pupil’s requirements and capacities cannot be accommodated at their school. Improved appliance of assessment methods can detect the co-existence of differing cognitive and behavioural difficulties, all of which require to be addressed within carefully-organised modes of intervention.

Teachers and educational psychologists wish to ascertain strengths and requisites when assessing learners. Unfortunately, by engaging in a classification process they may unwittingly fabricate a rationale which results in pupils being even further removed from mainstream education. For instance, students can suffer a ‘triple whammy’ as when a categorisation unduly influences: (1) low expectations relating to their potential; (2) an assumption that they should not be accepted into a school; and (3) the likelihood of them being permanently excluded.

There has been a widely-held belief that categorisation and labelling are important in providing legal protection, acquiring funding and gaining access to extra assistance from services and educational establishments. Certainly, case studies to back this view can be found. Nonetheless, there are other ways in which these benefits could be obtained if a comprehensive framework of students’ rights was utilised.

Endeavouring to fit an individual’s needs into a single grouping can have deleterious consequences. In general, there has been a distinct move away from the usage of tight categories. However, even looser eclectic descriptions, such as ‘experiencing additional support needs’, carry with them the danger of being interpreted as a rigid classification. A constant emphasis on differences and a disregard of similarities opens the way to shifting from receptive towards restricted mentalities. Vigilance to ensure that a learner is not excluded (or should one say ‘imprisoned’?) via the improper use of a label is paramount. (In any case, do we not all have additional needs, albeit diverse ones at differing levels?)

Assessment which leads to well-directed assistance and incentives

Appropriate appraisal procedures are required to address difficulties and play a crucial role on behalf of learners who are experiencing them. They not only clarify levels of current competences and capabilities but also indicate which forms of involvement and aid are most advantageous. In erstwhile routines, a great deal of credence was given by professionals to formal intelligence tests and standardised results in connection with language and numeracy. More recently, there have been considerable criticism and scepticism concerning the application of such types of normative measures. Very often, as an alternative, the emphasis has been placed firmly on using assessment techniques to help structure and maintain successful tutoring strategies, adaptive behavioural interventions and uplifting learning environments.

There is much to recommend in utilising processes which combine accurate assessments of strengths and requirements alongside the identification of those circumstances best suited to needs. Carefully-staged observations of everyday situations are valuable in avoiding simplistic analyses when attempting to map out how best to intervene. Within therapeutic and educational surroundings, formative assessment can be highly beneficial in terms of promoting both effort and achievements. It enables teachers to highlight what learners have mastered already and to devise future learning pathways.

Skills relating to on-going constructive assessments may appear easy on paper but in practice require substantial expertise. They take account of: devising and setting realistic objectives for all students; sympathetically but rigorously monitoring their progression; providing feedback in an inspirational manner; and collaborating with learners in reviewing their aspirations and in planning forthcoming goals. A concerted engagement following this outline reveals hidden talents, rejects segregation and increases a sense of belonging.

“Our ability to reach unity in diversity will be the beauty and test of civilisation.” (Mahatma Gandi)


The needs of too many students are frequently missed, their perspectives misunderstood and their voices ignored among the bureaucratic and complex demands of modern education. A cultural shift is fundamental if inclusiveness is to gain traction. The acceptance of diversity and the commitment to ensuring equity for all entail high levels of advocacy, respect, tolerance, compassion and appreciation to permeate throughout learning communities. Unconscious bias has to be recognised and abolished along with negative stereotyping and labelling. Specialised support should be extended and focused within mainstream education, if necessary, using existing special schools and clinics as resource centres.

Governmental and local authority guidelines must wholeheartedly incorporate egalitarian principles and values. If official proposals or prescribed curricular topics prove to be unworkable, the duty of educationalists is to draw attention to deficiencies and to recommend or ‘reclaim’ appropriate courses of study and training programmes for their students. Schedules which include thoughtful and regular monitoring to enhance emotional wellbeing, acknowledge accomplishments and generate further advancement are key ingredients in maintaining successful developments. When effectively delivered, professional collaboration promotes confidence, self-belief and ‘can do’ mindsets regarding endless options for personal, social and intellectual growth.  

In summary, proponents of inclusive education aspire to foster welcoming, coherent and vibrant systems which:

  • are open and respectful to all learners without any imagined or created barriers to admission and full participation
  • provide individualised learning pathways which ensure meaningful progress irrespective of identity, attributes and social background
  • encourage students to take responsibility to attain their desired learning outcomes through well-planned and accommodating interchange and negotiation
  • offer a comprehensive and integrated range of counselling, guidance and supportive strategies in conjunction with relevant professional agencies and local facilities
  • help to build and maintain energetic, equitable and flourishing national and community services.


Points for consideration

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal No 4: ‘To ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ (by 2030).

United Nations: Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities: General comment No 4, 2016. Article 24: Right to inclusive education: ‘The right to inclusive education encompasses a transformation in culture, policy and practice in all formal and informal educational environments to accommodate the different requirements and identities of individual students, together with a commitment to remove barriers that impede that possibility.’

These are world-wide challenges. How advanced is our nation in reaching these high standards? Perhaps, more basically, are those in positions of power and responsibility fully aware of goals to which they are committed?

Note: For a brief charter focusing on the principles and characteristics of equity and inclusion in education, please use the following link:

Additional note: A wide variety of items on inclusive practices are available for study and reflection at:

(Dr Frank O’Hagan previously was the Adviser of Studies to Bachelor of Education students at the University of Strathclyde. Later, he was a member of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Education.)