Aims

What were the main aims of the initiative?

The project Raising Achievement for all Learners – Quality in Inclusive Education (RA4AL), ran from December 2011 – November 2012. It set out to identify the key issues that need to be explored and strategies that appear to be successful in raising achievement for all learners in inclusive settings. This example considers the implications for teacher professional development.

Themes:

Raising the achievement of all learners is an ethical imperative. The RA4AL project set out to challenge the idea that some learners are destined to fail. It aimed to move on from a focus on the ‘why’ of inclusion to address the ways in which inclusive policy and practice can raise the achievement of all learners in practice.


Background

Location, setting, Scope, key events etc.

The European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education·(the Agency) is an independent and self-governing organisation established by member countries to act as their platform for collaboration. The Agency offers its 29 member countries the opportunity to learn from each other through different types of knowledge and experience exchange. (See: https://www.european-agency.org )

Working primarily with policy makers, the Agency follows work programmes that reflect both country priorities and agreed EU policies regarding inclusive education.


ISSUES ADDRESSED

What issues/challenges does the example address?

Drawing on past Agency project work, recent international research and materials presented at the RA4AL international conference held during the project, six themes were identified that are considered critical in raising the achievement of all learners. The project also made recommendations for future work in this area. The implications of the project for teacher professional development are also considered.

 


Implementation

How was the Initiative implemented?

The first phase of the project was desk-based research considering a range of thematic project work conducted by the Agency involving all member countries and recent international research including work by international organisations such as UNESCO, UNICEF and OECD.

A conference was planned in the second phase of the project. This was held in Odense, Denmark in June 2012, in collaboration with the Danish Ministry of Education and the Odense Municipal Authorities. The conference was an official event under the Danish Presidency of the EU.

In order to explore the project key issues, experts included policy makers for general compulsory education and policy makers and researchers from the field of inclusive education.

The conference included an exhibition of relevant country initiatives, inputs, seminars and informal networking. A position paper drafted by European Agency staff outlined key issues for the conference.


KEY OUTCOMES & IMPACT

What where the key Outcomes? What impact/added value did they prove? What were the biggest challenges?

The project outcomes include a project position paper, a conference report and a synthesis report (available in 22 languages) (all available from: https://www.european-agency.org/agency-projects/ra4al )

The project identified the following themes as critical to raising the achievement of all learners:

1. Collaborative policy and practice. To engage and support all learners, in particular those who may face disadvantage, services should be provided in local communities through close collaboration – in policy and practice – between education, health, social services and other agencies. Co-operation and networking are needed at all levels – national, local area, school and classroom – between all stakeholders, learners and families, to ensure both co-ordinated responses and effective use of resources.

The many facets of collaborative working across different levels of the system – from collaborative assessment and learning in the classroom to professional networks at international level – are highlighted in the RA4AL synthesis report, demonstrating the importance of social capital in school and system reform.

Teaching is no longer an isolated profession and teachers must develop the competences needed to work effectively with a range of professionals and with their colleagues (within classrooms).

2. Support for school and system leaders. Recent research shows that leadership is one of the main drivers of quality of teaching (Barber et al., 2010). School and system leaders should receive support to ensure that they have the vision and the necessary competences to establish a positive ethos and provide appropriate leadership for inclusive practice. Planning to meet the diverse needs of all learners should become an integral part of the whole area/school development process, which should in turn bring together all current priorities in a coherent way. The RA4AL project findings also stress the need to move away from top down leadership towards distributed leadership that emphasises teamwork and collaborative problem solving.

Teachers should therefore be provided with opportunities to develop their leadership skills, for example in different areas of the curriculum, as a further form of professional development.

3. Inclusive accountability. Approaches to system and school accountability should include a strong element of self and/or peer review to empower stakeholders to see accountability as professionally owned rather than externally imposed.

In order to move towards greater equity in education, a variety of performance indicators are needed, suited to the local situation and focusing on input, resources, processes and output/outcomes. Such developments should measure what is valuable for all learners to ensure consistency and reinforce inclusive values and practice.

Teachers should develop the competences necessary to be involved with colleagues in self-review and also the skilsl/knowledge to both use research evidence in their teaching and appropriate methodology in evaluating their own practice, with a particular focus on learner outcomes.

4. Personalisation through listening to learners. The voice of the learner is key in shaping all policy and practice. Personalisation involves working more closely with parents and families to address any support requirements in a holistic way. A focus on personalisation requires flexible systems of curriculum and assessment that value excellence in all areas of learning.

Teachers need competences to work with learners and their families. They need a clear understanding of curriculum development and assessment procesess and apppropriate use of assessment information for different purposes (e.g. on-going assessment for learning and summative assessment of learning etc.) in order to provide high-quality opportunities for all learners.

5. Pedagogical approaches for all. In view of work by the Agency, further supported by recent international research, it is evident that there are pedagogical approaches that benefit all learners, for example team teaching and peer assisted learning.

Florian and Black-Hawkins (2011) note that extending what is ordinarily available to all learners is a complex pedagogical task that requires a shift from an approach that works for most learners (with something additional to or different from for some) to an approach that involves ‘the development of a rich learning community characterized by learning opportunities that are sufficiently made available for everyone’ (p. 814).

Teachers require competences that enable them to plan for the participation of all learners in their classes. They need the attitudes and values to take responsibility for and support all learners as an integral part of their daily practice.


EVALUATION

Has the initiative been evaluated or are there plans for this in the future?

As as a project supported under the European Commission’s Lifelong Learning Programme Comenius funding, the work was subject to the EU Commission process evaluation. The project team produced a final report that considered the exchange between professionals, project achievements and learning points for future Agency work. The report was evaluated by the Executive Agency of the European Commission with external experts and was awarded a score of 90%.


FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS / SUSTAINABILITY

Have any plans been made for future direction of the initiative?

The RA4AL project has formed the basis of a further three year project ‘Raising the Achievement of all Learners in Inclusive Education’. This project is working with Learning Communities in Italy, Poland and UK (Scotland) and participants from all Agency member countries to explore the following questions:

  • What pedagogical strategies and teaching approaches best support learning and are effective in raising the achievement (academic and social) of all learners?
  • What school leadership strategies are most effective in:
    1. Organising, developing, implementing and monitoring inputs and processes that raise the achievement of all learners?
    2. Stimulating participation of learners, parents/carers in the learning process?
    3. Developing and tracking all forms of achievement and analysing outcomes to inform further development?

These questions will be considered in the context of the national/local policy context and how this can best support learning communities to undertake organisational development and enable school leaders to raise the achievement of all learners - in particular through collaborative approaches.

ICT will be considered as a tool for improvement across all levels of the system and as an integral part of everyday work in the classroom and in the professional life of teachers/leaders.

Further information can be found at:

https://www.european-agency.org/agency-projects/raising-achievement


LEARNING POINTS

What are the main learning points?

The RA4AL project highlights the importance of professional development for inclusive education as one of the critical themes.

Project findings note that teachers must be active agents in any system/school change and their competences should be addressed through both initial teacher education and continuing professional development.

The four areas of competence included in the Agency Profile of Inclusive Teachers (2012): valuing learner diversity, supporting all learners, working with others and personal professional development are those needed by teachers likely to be successful in raising the achievement of all learners.

(See: https://www.european-agency.org/agency-projects/Teacher-Education-for-Inclusion/profile )


Materials

Are there further information about supporting materials?

Further information on the RA4AL project is available from:

https://www.european-agency.org/agency-projects/ra4al

 

The Profile of Inclusive Teachers can be found at:

https://www.european-agency.org/agency-projects/Teacher-Education-for-Inclusion/profile

 

References

Barber, M., Whelan, F.and Clark, M., 2010. Capturing the Leadership Premium: How the world’s top school systems are building leadership capacity for the future. London: Mc Kinsey and Company

European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education, 2012. Profile of Inclusive Teachers. Odense, Denmark: European Agency for Development in Special Neds Education

Florian, L., and Black-Hawkins, K., 2011. Exploring Inclusive Pedagogy. British Educational Research Journal, 37, 5, 813-828


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Verity Donnelly

Project Manager, European Agency for Special Needs and Inclusive Education

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