The Inclusive Practice Project at Aberdeen, Scotland
The Inclusive Practice Programme at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, offers a suite of courses at Master’s level through which teachers can achieve Certificate, Diploma and ultimately a Master’s Degree in Inclusive Practice.
A research and development project at the University of Aberdeen remodelled the initial teacher education course to feature inclusion at the core of its programme. The Master’s level courses in Inclusive Practice have now also been redesigned to introduce experienced teachers to the principles of inclusive pedagogy (e.g. Spratt and Florian, 2014).
This course is open to both classroom teachers (primary and secondary) and to specialists in Additional Support Needs (the Scottish policy term for teachers who support pupils experiencing difficulties). A key feature of the work is the way in which professionals holding different roles work together to discuss the concepts of the course and their implications for practice.
The courses are available online, so, with the use of innovative digital pedagogies, we bring together teachers from across Scotland and from other countries.
The main aims of the programme are:
- to introduce experienced teachers to the concept of inclusive pedagogy;
- to support teachers to explore the implications of inclusive pedagogy for their own practice;
- to further the participative and collaborative aspects of teachers’ work;
- to examine the implications of inclusive pedagogy for curriculum transformation and change;
- to challenge the traditional boundaries between classroom teachers and specialists with responsibility for pupils with Additional Support Needs, to find new ways of working together to enhance learning and teaching for all.
This work is taking place at the University of Aberdeen in the north east of Scotland. By offering online learning, the Inclusive Practice Programme attracts students from across Scotland, including from some very remote rural locations. In addition, the programme is seeking and increasingly attracting interest from teachers internationally.
Currently, 50–70 course participants per year are enrolled on the programme. Teachers join the course from all stages of their professional careers. The shared perspectives bring value to the courses.
The current courses offered by the Inclusive Practice Programme emerge from an on-going body of research and development that has taken place at the University of Aberdeen since 2007. This work has involved a reciprocal cycle of classroom teaching, research and teacher education, each of which has informed and strengthened the others.
As described above, between 2007 and 2011, the School of Education at the University of Aberdeen remodelled its initial teacher education course to place inclusion at its heart. In doing this, inclusion was fore-grounded as a key concern for all teachers, in all aspects of their work (as opposed to offering inclusion as an optional extra for those students who may be interested in ‘learning support’). The development of the course was informed by the latest research in inclusion, particularly the concept of inclusive pedagogy as conceived by Florian and Black-Hawkins (2011). Inclusive pedagogy offers a set of principles to inform practice that acknowledges and responds to the diversity of learners in the classroom, while avoiding the pitfalls of labelling some children as different.
Following the implementation of the initial teacher education course, a follow-up study was undertaken to explore how beginning teachers graduating from the course enacted inclusive pedagogy in a range of different contexts. As inclusive pedagogy is a response to human diversity, the principles will be enacted differently depending on the particular issues in any classroom. This makes it difficult to know what inclusive teachers actually do. Through the follow-up study, a robust framework for examining and gauging inclusive practice was developed to support researchers and teachers in making judgements about what counts as inclusion (Florian and Spratt, 2013). Moreover, the follow-up study helped the programme leaders to refine their own understandings of the concept of inclusive pedagogy (Spratt and Florian, 2015).
The Master’s-level Inclusive Practice Programme has been developed from this body of research. Unlike initial teacher education, teachers come to this course with experience, and they are challenged to think about inclusion in a way that may be at odds with the experiences that they have in schools. At the same time, experienced teachers have the confidence and the autonomy to introduce quite far-reaching changes in their practice, so sometimes the outcomes of the course are quite radical.
A further challenge for experienced teachers is that they may have developed identities either as classroom teachers or as specialists for children experiencing difficulties, and often these two communities can form silos. Our course provides opportunities for them to think about new ways of working together.
The courses have been developed collaboratively with colleagues in Aberdeen University’s School of Education and with a nearby local authority. Four teachers were released from school to work on the design of the Inclusive Pedagogy module. They reviewed course materials and supported the development of the activities, to ensure that the teaching of research-based concepts was undertaken in a way that spoke to the reality of the working lives of teachers.
The courses are offered part-time, as participants are also working. The online courses involve weekly readings and activities that are communicated via a discussion board. Each module also has several workshops taking place in ‘real time’ in a virtual classroom. Here, course participants have the opportunity to discuss the readings in the context of their own practice. Assessments are based on reflective accounts of changes that course participants make in their own practice.
- Inclusive Pedagogy: based on the core themes of Social Justice, Understanding Learning and Active Professionalism. Usually students study this course first and use these concepts to underpin later work.
- Participation and Learning: This examines what is meant by participation, why it is important and how it can be fostered in collaborative work with colleagues, parents and pupils. Students study the issue of pupil voice and its role in the inclusive learning environment. They undertake participative projects relating either to literacy difficulties and dyslexia or to autism.
- Curriculum Transformation and Change: This course considers the nature and development of inclusive curricula, drawing from the notion of inclusive pedagogy.
Full details of the Inclusive Practice Programme are on the University of Aberdeen website.
No formal research has yet been undertaken into the effects of this teaching programme, although this is planned to take place in the near future. However, it is clear from the assignments that the teachers submit for assessment that in some cases the course brings about quite a radical change in approaches to learning and teaching, as teachers develop new collaborative ways of working to support the participation of all children in the life and learning of the classroom.
The courses are evaluated through student feedback, which is routinely collected by the University of Aberdeen for all courses. Feedback has largely been highly positive about the impact of these courses on participants’ conceptual understanding of the issues they face in the classroom and the effect that this has on their practice. Teachers comment on how close engagement with research literature helps them to develop arguments for changes they wish to implement in schools.
- Value of involving practising teachers in planning CPD
- Key role of collaborative practice in developing new approaches to support learners experiencing difficulties in learning
- Recognition of the reciprocal relationship between research, course development and classroom practice to lead change
- Understanding that inclusive pedagogy is a response to human diversity, which seeks to avoid deterministic effects of categorising learners
- Recognition that the principles of inclusive pedagogy will be enacted differently depending on the particular issues in any classroom.
- Usefulness of the framework for interrogating inclusive practice (Florian and Spratt, 2013), to examine practice and to support researchers and teachers in making judgements about what counts as inclusion.
The programme has a very good and steady uptake of teachers from within the UK, but is looking to recruit more teachers internationally. An application has been made for funding to support this development.