The labels of “expertism”

terracotta sculpture at the Valley School near Bangalore. A shared expertise here perhaps?

Terracotta sculpture at the Valley School near Bangalore. A shared expertise here perhaps?

“An expert is a man who has made all the mistakes that can be made, in a narrow field.”

Niels Bohr


Let me begin with an apology for using the ugly, and probably made up word “expertism”. Some newly created words seem to me to be ok, though I’m not convinced by this one.  Now that I am back in England my thoughts quickly return to educational issues here. This is in part a result of the many interactions I have with students and teachers and also influenced by my reading of various academic papers and attention to the media. Inevitably, so soon after a visit to India I find myself making comparisons with what I have seen there and my experiences at home, and yesterday, following a conversation with one of my PhD students I was considering the way in which we use titles that indicate some form of expertise and the impact this might have in schools.

In England the role of the Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (SENCO) has become a requirement in schools. This individual teacher assumes overall responsibility for managing procedures associated with all children with special educational needs within the school. This may include carrying out assessments, developing individual education plans, advising teachers and collaboration with parents and other professionals. Similar roles can be seen elsewhere. In Ireland for example Learning Support Teachers and Resource Teachers work with pupils who are experiencing difficulties, often in situations where pupils are withdrawn from classes and provide advice to their teachers on the development of appropriate learning strategies. In India the term “Special Educator” is applied to a teacher with expertise in learning difficulties who may work either in a school or in a support centre as an expert deviser of education programmes and interventions. Each of these roles tends to be occupied by professionals with a commitment to learners who may well have been rejected by others or at least are perceived as presenting difficulties for teachers in mainstream classroom situations.

There is no doubting the need for expert teachers of this nature. Many children who are described as having special educational needs or disabilities require careful intervention and additional support if they are to make progress in school. Others who possibly come from situations of poverty or from families where the mother tongue is not that of the language of instruction, will need teachers with understanding and empathy as well as some distinctive pedagogical skills. The teachers who fulfil these specialist roles are generally dedicated, skilled and knowledgeable individuals who make a significant difference to the lives of learners with difficulties. However, I do have concerns that there is another side to this situation.

How easy is it for teachers to abdicate their responsibilities to these expert teachers, rather than developing their own skills? Generally speaking the specialist teacher will have a limited time working with a child who is struggling, and often this will be away from the main classroom. Sadly, I have heard it said by teachers in several countries, including my own, that the child with special educational needs is a problem and is the responsibility of the specialist teacher. Where this situation is allowed to persist the pressures on the special educator increase and for the majority of the time, when the pupil is being taught by the non-specialist, they receive less than adequate support. In extreme situations these children become resented and further marginalised from the class.

So, what is the alternative? Maybe we need to rethink the role of the specialist. Is it not possible that teachers require support as much as, or even more than the pupil with special educational needs? I would suggest that we need to provide every teacher with a basic level of understanding of the teaching approaches, assessment procedures and classroom management skills that are conducive to ensuring that all children are effectively supported in learning in mainstream classrooms. Only then will teachers accept their responsibility for all learners and feel confident in their abilities to do so. At the moment many teachers are apprehensive and doubting of their own ability to succeed with a small number of pupils. This has led to a culture of “expertism” where the responsibility for pupils who have difficulties is invested in only a few specialists. The intentions of legislation such as the Code of Practice for Special Educational Needs in England, or the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act in India are honourable, but the practicalities of implementation remain a challenge. This will continue to be the case until we support all teachers in developing the skills, knowledge and understanding that ensure that they too feel that they have sufficient expertise to succeed with all children. Let’s consider realigning the role of the specialist to one focused upon supporting and skilling every teacher as well as continuing to lead by example in the ways in which they support learners. In this way perhaps every teacher will become an expert.



The art of expression

Then power of the written word is immense. This collection of poetry in local languages provides inspiration for young learners at Primiti school in Bangalore

The power of the written word is immense. This collection of poetry in local languages provides inspiration for young learners at Primiti school in Bangalore


This collage communicates the characteristics of a peepal tree every bit as well as I could do in words

This collage communicates the characteristics of a peepal tree every bit as well as I could do in words

I love words. This has undoubtedly come about in part as the result of the inspiration of at least two outstanding teachers. I say at least two, because I am sure that others made a significant contribution to my enthusiasm for the spoken and written word. Mrs Evans (I never knew her first name, though we referred to her with an irreverent affection as Faggy Maggie because of her habit of chain smoking) and John Passey instilled in me a love of literature and books in general that has served me well over the years. The great authors and poets have been constant companions as have the writers of history, philosophy and assorted essays. The gift of reading given to me by my earliest teachers was reinforced by those who came later and tried to provide me with a more critical and discerning approach to books. This was a gift indeed, through reading Tolstoy I have been transported to nineteenth century Russia, by Mahfouz to the grimy back alleys of Cairo, Kenzaburo Oe has given me insights into the Japanese psyche and of course Narayan, Desai and Anand painted pictures of Indian village life in my imagination long before I visited India. I remember a time when occasionally I would see stickers in the rear windows of cars that stated “if you can read this, thank a teacher”. I certainly thank mine for the opportunities and pleasure that the written word has given to me.

It is a fact that many children struggle with words. Some find reading and writing to be a major challenge and often as a result of this they struggle to gain access to other learning. Every culture values the written word and an acquired competence in reading has become the key to gaining knowledge and information in our education systems. This is as true today in an age of digital technology as it ever has been through the era of the printed text and it remains the case that those children who struggle with reading are likely to be classified as poor learners. Many authoritative texts advocating approaches to the teaching of reading have been produced over the years. Early in my teaching career books, some of which like Tansley’s Reading and Remedial Reading became educational classics, were a source of inspiration and support as I attempted to address the needs of seemingly reluctant readers. But it remains a fact that despite my best endeavours some of my pupils gained nothing more than a basic understanding of the written word. Some could certainly be moved by words and demonstrated a love of stories or poetry when they were read to them. But their ability to progress to that desired state of competent independent reader appeared sadly limited. As a teacher I was often frustrated, but I hope, equally sympathetic.

Whilst we live in a literate world where the word continues to dominate, it is important that we recognise that there are other important means of expression that can, in some instances, convey meaning with equal if not greater power than words. Why is it that some educators are reluctant to accept that for some children who struggle with the written word alternative modes of communication may be just as valid? For some the expression available through music or dance is every bit as empowering as the written page. Indeed in some instances the presentation of a drawn image may be in every way equal to the well-constructed paragraph, and a collage may depict more emotion than most writers can manage in a page of text. My colleague Jean Edwards demonstrates this admirably by producing a blog based around a daily drawing. I would urge you to visit her work at . An example from her collection of sketches is provided at the foot of this blog entry. Jean is an articulate, thoughtful, well read and effective communicator and teacher but on this site she demonstrates why as teachers we would do well to pay attention to a range of means of expression.

The London born artist Stephen Wiltshire is a fine exponent of the art of cityscapes. As a child he was described as non-communicative because he never used spoken language. Diagnosed as autistic he was labelled with the classical characteristics of this condition that include poor communication, an inability to empathise and a lack of sociability. By the age of seven, teachers had recognised that he had a talent for drawing and at the age of eight he was commissioned by the then Prime Minister, Edward Heath to make a drawing of Salisbury cathedral. In recent years Wiltshire has been acknowledge as one of the most talented artists of his generation with collections of his works such as Floating Cities and American Dream gaining significant acclaim from some of the world’s leading art critics. You can find more detail about Stephen Wiltshire and his art at

Had teachers not recognised and publicised Stephen Wiltshire’s talent as an artist and especially his ability to communicate through drawing, he may well have been known more for his label of autism than for his significant contribution to the interpretation of buildings and cities. So, when we talk about children and young people with communication difficulties, perhaps we might reflect upon the fact that it may not be their difficulty to express themselves that is at fault. It is equally possible that it could be our lack of ability to understand.


This is one of Jean Edwards' many fine drawings that can be seen on her blog. Contact details given above in the text

This is one of Jean Edwards’ many fine drawings, “Winter Tree at Sunset” (2014) that can be seen on her blog. Contact details given above in the text

Thanks to Jean Edwards for permission to use this picture here.


The alarm rings and I see through blurred eyes that the illuminated clock face says 6.00am. I reach out and find Sara stirring next to me. Ah yes, back home in England. I try in my somewhat befuddled, jet lagged state to calculate the time in Bangalore – 11.30 am, friends there will have been about their labours for many hours whilst I have been catching up on sleep. Drawing aside the curtains and looking from the bedroom window it is dark outside, but I am able to discern that there is no glistening white covering of frost this morning. Good news, the temperature is above freezing, at 5 degrees a relatively mild start for this time of year, but certainly not a South Indian morning.

A bowl of muesli for breakfast rather than the more customary dosa or idli of recent days helps prepare me for the day as I catch up with Sara on the news from home of the past two weeks and share some of my experiences from Bangalore. It is reassuring to return to a familiar routine, though I cannot imagine my life now without frequent visits to India and my friends and colleagues there.

Whenever I return from working with students in India I find myself pondering what I have learned. The whole experience of the visit has an influence upon my educational outlook. I find myself recharged with an enthusiasm for work shaped by the privilege of working with teachers committed to gaining a greater understanding of how they may change the lives of marginalised children.  The critical thinking that characterises the taught sessions on the MA programme in Bangalore challenges any notion of security we may have had in our own ideas of how to create an inclusive society. Whilst I am a tutor on this course I find that I am much more of a learner, a student of the cultural and socio-economic challenges confronted by Indian teachers on a daily basis. My conventional thinking is challenged and I am excited by the willingness of students on the course to debate issues and explore ideas.

Whilst this learning is clearly a positive outcome of the collaboration with colleagues in Bangalore, I also find that I become increasingly intolerant of the market driven bureaucratic processes that have been created by education policy makers in both India and England. The creeping iniquitous policies and procedures that have increasingly focused upon making our schools, colleges and universities into competitive institutions rather than supportive learning environments is something which causes me to become ever more anxious for the future of teaching. Healthy competition certainly has a place, but when schools feel unable to accept pupils who they perceive as likely to have a negative impact upon their academic results, this does nothing to assist the creation of an inclusive educational community. In India the Right to Education Act has been implemented with honourable intentions aimed at supporting learners who have been excluded from fair educational opportunities. At  the present time many school teachers and their principals are wary of addressing the requirements of the Act for fear that parents will perceive that a new intake of disadvantaged students may have a negative impact upon academic standards and the opportunities provided to their children. There is no empirical evidence to support their fears, but these apprehensions need to be addressed rather than ignored.

We must not blame teachers who express these concerns. When teachers believe themselves to be inadequately prepared to address the needs of the students in their class, they are naturally apprehensive and may well appear reluctant to cooperate. It is essential that those teachers who have the skills, understanding and knowledge to address the needs of children who may challenge conventional teaching, share this expertise with those who are less confident. We must ensure that this is achieved through collaboration and the establishment of supportive networks which will ultimately benefit both teachers and children. Sharing learning may appear more difficult in a competitive education environment, but the generosity of the students with whom we have been working indicates that it is certainly possible.

Over the past two weeks I have worked with teachers and students who have not only made a commitment to develop their own professionalism, but will also become the future leaders of educational inclusion in their communities. It is because of this that my optimism for the future of education in India far surpasses my concerns about the increasingly competitive nature of schooling. If these colleagues with whom I have been working are in any way representative of the teachers of Bangalore, then a more inclusive education system is assured.


Inclusive teaching for the benefit of all

Inclusive teaching for the benefit of all

“Parting is such sweet sorrow that I shall say goodnight till it be morrow.”

― William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

At this time I am looking forward to getting home. To see my family and to return to home comforts. By keeping busy whilst away I manage to fend off any semblance of home sickness, but I am never the less eager to journey west. But as ever, the leaving of India and the many friends who are here is tinged with sadness. This is a country and a people of whom I have grown increasingly fond.

For a brief time we came together here in Bangalore, tutors and students, teachers and learners working together on a common theme. And before too long we will join together again, united in an effort to understand what we can about teaching and learning and working for a more just and equitable education landscape. Our determination to challenge the exclusion and marginalisation of any child remains as strong as ever.

It is the privilege of my involvement in this work and knowing that I am in the company of such committed colleagues that always makes the journey worthwhile. Jayashree and Johnson, our two Indian tutors demonstrate the professionalism that enables our teaching here to succeed. At times there are anxieties and frustrations when progress appears too slow, but these are more than compensated by the determined focus of students and friends upon the eventual goal of an inclusive education system and a more accepting society. The steps we take in this direction are small, but the alternative is to remain motionless and inert.

During the past days we have discussed and debated, argued and disputed, puzzled over many challenging problems and sought together to find solutions and develop more inclusive approaches to learning. We have shared in laughter and thrived on friendship and above all we have respected and listened to the many different routes that each of has taken towards greater understanding.

So it is that we will return in ever greater anticipation of what might be accomplished . April and September will see a reunion of tutors and students tackling the issues of how we can better commit our schools to the inclusive agenda. India is a country of exciting opportunities and will undoubtedly become a leading example to many other nations as a democratic society committed to improvements in the lives of all its citizens. This will not happen overnight, but is certain to be the destiny of this diverse and complex nation.

But for now the sweet sorrow of parting must give way to a period of reflection. At the outset of this blog I suggested that “perhaps there will be new learning along the way and then maybe I will persist”. This was a new venture and one upon which I embarked with some apprehension and more than a little sceptisism. Having given it a try I am grateful for the observations posted in response to my comments and heartened that so many people around the world have shown interest in the issues discussed. So whilst I will probably not post every day on this site I will endeavour to maintain the conversation.

Thank you to everyone who has made the effort to read these daily reports, and particularly to those of you who have taken the time to post a comment. I hope that some day we may meet and continue our dialogue face to face. For those of you who  have expressed an interest in the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme taught in Bangalore, I would be delighted to hear from you directly, either on this blog  or via email –

We will be starting a new cohort of students in September 2014 and I would be delighted should you wish to join us on this journey. If you choose to do so, I know that at times the road will seem hard, but I am equally confident that the experience will be one that is enriching and worthwhile. Stay in touch with this page for more reflections on the exploration of teaching and learning to create an  inclusive society in which we all live and learn together in mutual respect and with dignity.

Once again we will brave the road from Jayanagar to Bangalore airport!


Sharing an agenda for inclusion

Republic Day 2014. One of India’s many great virtues is that since gaining independence in 1947 it has maintained a commitment to democratic principles. There have, of course, been occasions when this democracy has developed cracks and has appeared vulnerable but the majority of people here have a well-developed sense of justice that has sustained the systems fostered by Nehru, Patel, Rajagopalachari and other early leaders of the free nation.

Having said this, nothing is perfect. Gross inequalities continue to dominate this society, just as they do others across the globe, including my own. Whole communities remain marginalized as a result of poverty, disability, culture and caste, and inclusion remains a distant dream for many. What role can education play in effecting change? Is the burden so great that we as teachers, can have no impact upon redressing the inequalities that persist?

Today on India’s Republic day the words of one of the founding fathers of modern India’s democratic principles continue to have relevance to the situation here.

“My final words of advice to you are educate, agitate and organise; have faith in yourself. With justice on our side I do not see how we can lose our battle. The battle to me is a matter of joy. The battle is in the fullest sense spiritual. There is nothing material or social in it. For ours is a battle not for wealth or for power. It is battle for freedom. It is the battle of reclamation of human personality.”

Dr.Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar

Ambedkar himself knew what it was to experience oppression and disadvantage. The fact that he is now revered as a major influence upon post-independence democracy here in India, is a tribute to the fact that an individual can rise from the more down trodden echelons of society to have an impact upon a whole nation. Despite its many challenges Indian democracy remains an example of what can be achieved with the determination of people committed to its cause.

Marginalisation and oppression still exist here, as elsewhere across the world. If this situation is to change we would do well to heed the words of Ambedkar and his call to us to educate, agitate and organise. But such actions require clear thinking leaders who are prepared to take selfless action for the benefit of others. Today a group of individuals who have already devoted much of their lives to supporting the development of education for change came together to provide leadership and to contribute a tiny first movement that hopefully may develop into a greater force for change over the years to come.

Representatives from Kerala, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu came together today to constitute a forum for support of the development of inclusive education. These individuals whose collective experience of working with disadvantaged, disabled and marginalised children over many years have given a commitment to work together in support of teachers and parents. Amongst the group were experienced teachers, parents and social activists whose influence has already been seen to have an impact upon the lives of children and their families. Today they formulated plans for ensuring that those teachers and parents who often find themselves working in isolation gain greater support as they endeavour to create a more inclusive education system in the country.

As an observer at this gathering I felt honoured to be present at the beginning of something which I feel may well develop into a significant vehicle for furthering the cause of inclusion. These are individuals who are most certainly prepared to educate, agitate and organise. I have no doubt that they will face many obstacles along the way, but I look forward to seeing them confront the challenges ahead and feel certain that they will contribute to the development of a more just society similar to that which Ambedkar and the other founding fathers of the republic originally envisaged.

So on this Indian Republic Day – India Inclusive Education Forum – Jai Hind

जय हिंद

Not yet a parting of the ways

Here is an outline of the project for my assignment

Here is an outline of the project for my assignment

Bangalore is never quiet. Traffic creates a steady din throughout the day and late into the night. I fall asleep each night to a discordant symphony of bleating horns and awake in the morning to a very similar grating tune. And these, all accompanied by a masala of barking dogs, screeching squirrels and men shouting from the streets form a typical backcloth to the starting day in Jayanagar. This morning was further marked by the call of the muezzin from the minaret of the mosque across the way. Real voice or recording I wonder? Who will respond to this early call to prayer? I glance at my watch 5.35am. The choice to roll over and return to sleep has gone, might as well get up, shower and start the day.

The early Saturday mornings of the modules we teach here are times for quiet reflection, seated on a balcony overlooking trees and beyond these the ever increasing high rise buildings that mark the Bangalore skyline. I always enjoy the wheeling acrobatics of the kites, an ever present feature of the skies here as they tumble and glide in an airborne ballet on eye level with my vantage point. The temperature in the early mornings so pleasant for an English visitor, is described as cold by Indian friends who wrap  shawls around their shoulders until the sun rises higher in the sky.

In some ways the day feels disjointed. We have so many little tasks to complete, feedback on recently marked assignments, tutorial support to ensure that students are ready for the next, reminders of the essential procedures of referencing and, of course, the inevitable module evaluation sheets. By far the most interesting part of the day is the time devoted to student presentations of their projected assignments for this module. Their task is to develop an intervention or procedure for use in their school, to apply this and evaluate how it goes over the next few months. This action research, focused upon their own teaching situation encourages them to apply the learning we have shared together throughout the week and to evaluate its application in the real world.

The planned actions are wide ranging and provide insights into the challenges that our students face in school. The encouragement of handwriting skills in a child with poor motor co-ordination; understanding the implications of inappropriate sexual behaviour in pubescent boys with learning difficulties; evaluating teaching attitudes and expectations in respect of inclusion; helping teachers move beyond teaching concrete operations in mathematics and towards more abstract learning. The diversity of topics represents some of the issues that are prevalent not only in schools here in India, but throughout the world. The opportunities that our students have to investigate an issue and develop approaches that can have a real impact in their schools is one of the most exciting aspects of this course.

Parting at the end of these intensive blocks of teaching is an emotional experience. Students and tutors alike have been united in an inclusive venture towards increased learning and understanding. There has been a definite frisson about many of the sessions this week as we have travelled together on a mission to explore inclusive teaching. Now will follow a period of individual tutorial support both here in India and at a distance, as each course participant is supported and challenged towards completing their assessed work. In April we will reconvene, not so much as students and tutors, but rather as fellow explorers trying to discover how together we can make our schools a welcome haven for all learners and their families.

A few more tasks need to be completed here before in a few days we will leave India. Parting is always tinged with sadness at saying goodbye to so many friends. But I will be happy to be reunited with my family who I always miss so badly during these times away and look forward to settling back into my home routines. But I also anticipate with joy returning here to strengthen old friendships and make new ones, to explore the promotion of inclusive schooling with teachers and students and to renew my efforts to understand this country, its culture, its peoples and its many contradictions.

It is 6.25 pm and the muezzin is renewing his call, thus the cycle of life goes on.




Only through a shared responsibility will inclusion work

Finding the right structure to support a child whilst considering the whole class. This is one of today's challenges

Finding the right structure to support a child whilst considering the whole class. This is one of today’s challenges

Wherever we work in pursuit of a more equitable education system teachers talk about obstacles. The barriers to inclusion have been constantly listed, and mulled over for as long as I can remember. Negative attitudes from teachers, lack of professional training, poor resourcing, insufficient time, these are recurring themes that arise whenever we discuss the need for change in schools. Blame culture also has a significant presence in this field. Teachers in that school aren’t interested, the government doesn’t invest, parents object to having these children in schools. Each of these is cited as a reason not to progress.

Working with a group of dedicated students here in Bangalore is a tremendous antidote to the negative expressions that we often hear. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their ability to focus on a task and see it through makes our job as tutors relatively easy. Today began with them looking at how structured teaching approaches could be developed in classrooms to support pupils who experience difficulties with learning. They designed visual timetables, analysed classroom environments, developed positive approaches to visual structure and shaped plans for pupils with a range of individual needs. Such is their commitment to the tasks we set that getting them to break for lunch is all but impossible.

The afternoon was occupied with a consideration of how schools might best collaborate with families and the local community to enhance the inclusion of all children. Rights and responsibilities were at the core of the discussion with students considering how empathetic approaches could be developed for the benefit of all parties. The ability to decentre and see the perspectives of others is an important skill for any teacher who wishes to promote inclusive teaching and learning, and these were certainly in evidence throughout this afternoon’s class. A statement of actions to be taken for the support of families was written by each group and related back to the principles they established earlier in the week.

A key to successful inclusion is most certainly the development of partnerships based upon shared responsibility. In our current market driven education systems it is easy to lose sight of the reason why most of us entered the teaching profession, which was founded upon a commitment to children and their families. The principles that our students have devised for the development of inclusive schools need to be kept at the forefront of our thinking in all that we do. Once we sacrifice our principles for material gain or influence and forget our responsibilities or the motivations that originally set us on our paths within education we are destined to build failing systems and to let down those for whom we have a responsibility. There will be times for sure when we are called upon to make a decision to either do that which is expedient, or that which is right. Let’s hope we have the courage to follow the correct path.

Having seen the way in which our students have participated and shared in learning this week I am convinced that they will move forward with a high regard for the principles they have established. I only hope that we as tutors and organisers of this course can live up to their high expectations.


An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Structure for support of an individual and the benefit of us all

Structure for support of an individual and the benefit of us all


Today’s news: Read all about it and think on this.

It may be an over generalisation to say that Indians love newspapers, but certainly there are news vendors everywhere here in Bangalore. The range of newspapers, in English, Kannada, Hindi and other Indian languages is phenomenal and it seems that local people just can’t get enough news. If the results of cricket matches are the first items they look to (bad news from New Zealand again today), the politics pages certainly rate second. Electioneering is in full swing with pictures of Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi and Arvind Kejriwal, the three main protagonists gazing out of most of the early pages. Each promises the earth, but I see little concrete policy coming from any of them. Politics would appear to be the same the world over.

Whilst here in Bangalore I find that I quickly slip into the Indian newspaper habit. Each morning hanging from the door handle of my room is a bag containing today’s edition of the Times of India, a national paper which compares to the Times newspaper at home hardly at all. Whilst another English paper, the Deccan Herald is also readily available, my morning newspaper of choice is the Hindu. In all honesty I miss The Guardian with its detailed analysis of world events, and the daily satirical whit of Steve Bell, but when in Bangalore one really has to do what the Bangaloreans do.

Shuffling through the pages of the Hindu this morning and casting my eye across items about the recalibration of meters on auto-rickshaws, the sterilization of urban monkeys and the shooting of the man-eater of Dodabetta, my scanning was suddenly halted by an article with the headline “Most class 1 students in rural schools cannot read words”.  The article, reporting the findings of the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2013 conducted in Karnataka State laments a general decline in pupil achievements in reading and mathematics over the past year. In addition, the number of children now attending paid tuition has dropped by as much as 2.5%. Tuition classes have been regarded by many parents as an essential means of boosting the likelihood of their children gaining good public examination results. Maybe this is an indication of financial hardship or perhaps they are reassessing the value for money angle of some of the tuition centres.

It is significant that this is a report from rural areas in a country where the discrepancy in wealth between cities and the countryside is certainly noticeable. In Bangalore new schools are emerging all across the city and are being rapidly filled by glistening children in neatly pressed uniforms and brightly shining shoes delivered by parents in their equally shiny new Volkswagens and SUVs.  The city has clearly benefited from an economic renaissance and many individuals are prospering. However, in the poorest districts of the city where families depend upon state schools and in the villages, this prosperity is seldom apparent.

Of particular interest to me in this article was an analysis of the response in terms of supporting school infrastructure in order to deliver on the 2009 Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE). Criteria were established with this Act to assess the implementation of mandatory requirements aimed at improving the education of children from marginalised groups, including those with disabilities or from scheduled castes or scheduled tribes. These include the setting up of libraries and the provision of drinking water and toilets, all things we would take for granted in English schools. The survey found that in the rural schools 15.2 % did not have access to drinking water and a further 4.7% had facilities but there was no water available. Whilst 1.7% had no toilets, 32.4% had toilets that were not useable and 7.6% did not have separate toilets for boys and girls. Only 9% of schools were reported as not having libraries, but a staggering 40.4% had libraries that were not being used by children.

It is difficult to be fair when viewing these figures and this situation through western eyes. Furthermore, it is wholly inappropriate that as a guest in India I should cast any condemnatory remarks in the direction of administrators and managers who are trying to juggle priorities in education with those in areas such as environment and transport, often under challenging circumstances. Figures such as those above are particularly shattering when I think of the enormity of the task of supporting teachers in the development of inclusive schools. Each of these statistics reveals the day to day realities of the lives of many children, teachers and families. How can what we are doing on a small course in Bangalore possibly make a difference?

Every journey must begin with a single step. I can only hope that for every fifty teachers with whom we interact here in India one may go the extra mile towards changing the education system to one that is more equitable and inclusive. To do so demands resilience and fortitude. Teachers have to be activists and agents for change in a way that those in my own country can hardly imagine. The joy in working here is the knowledge that every student with whom we work on this course is making a commitment to enable children to gain access to an education that is firmly focused on their needs and those of their families and communities.

In support of this venture our students today completed activities founded upon ensuring that their pupils were able to access learning at their own level in classes of diverse need and ability. Through carefully planned lessons, the use of mind maps and the analysis of pupil needs they continued to demonstrate their dedication to learners and their ingenuity as teachers. As tutors on this course we come from a privileged background and reap the riches of working with consummate professionals. We know that we have had educational opportunities that are denied to so many with whom we work here. Yet whatever we give to our students they return with interest a thousand times.

And finally a piece of good news (that hopefully will not make the morning newspapers). Just as I was about to contrive making a dhoti out of a bedsheet in order to go out this evening my laundry was returned. This comes as a great relief to myself but even more so to the good people of Jayanagar I suspect!

Planning for diverse needs. The product of thinking

Planning for diverse needs. The product of the thinking of one group of students

Bring a friend to school

Working together on planning a lesson is a great way to get to know each other and make friends

Working together on planning a lesson is a great way to get to know each other and make friends

“You must be the change you wish to see in the world”.

Mahatma Gandhi


When we have something that we think is good, why wouldn’t we want to share it with our friends?

I have always had an ambition that our students on the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme in Bangalore will become leaders for change across India. This may sound like a tall order, but if you met our students it would be a bold move to tell them otherwise. As an Englishman I am ever conscious of the impact upon change an individual in India may have. But I am also a realist. If these dedicated individuals are to bring about change they will need friends.

Today we had an open day on the course. Our students were invited to bring a friend or colleague to the day’s sessions to get a taste of the work they are doing. The hope is that the enthusiasm of our committed students infects these visitors and that they may then join them in the cause. This approach is not without risk. Our students have got to know and trust each other, they discuss and debate all ideas with a passion and have learned to work in a critical, though supportive environment. Would our visitors today be shocked at the frankness of exchange? How would they fit within a well-established group? Having spent so long talking about how we create the conditions for inclusion I have to say I was confident that our friends would be welcomed.

The morning session considered how the curriculum models we had discussed in module 1 could be practically applied for individual pupils with a range of needs. Our established students have been working in groups and we spread our visitors amongst them. No quarter was taken, they joined in as if they were themselves course members. Our students were magnificent, ensuring that their new friends were fully briefed and engaged in the activities. In their turn our visitors rose to the challenge and we were soon into the familiar territory of critical debate. Together they planned lessons, and devised assessments for pupils across a range of needs. They looked not only at the academic needs of children but also addressed their social, moral and spiritual needs and their place in developing skills, attitudes and understanding within the school curriculum. At the end of the morning they revisited their school principles and assessed their own progress in living up to these standards. They have become self-critical, but also quietly pleased with the ways in which they are able to apply learning.

Handing over to Mary for the afternoon session I knew that they would maintain the momentum of the morning’s work. Another delicious lunch, far from slowing our students down seemed to give them renewed energy. Mary’s session on multi-sensory teaching provided a well-balanced blend of theory and practice and drew upon her own experiences as well as those of members of the group. Ideas were developed and shared and examples of potential application of techniques emerged. Shared activity resulted in effective learning as all worked together towards solving problems and implementing solutions. New learning was applied and personal achievements celebrated.

Both our regular group and their friends left happy at the end of the day. Hopefully our leaders have found new supporters who will share the journey towards creating more inclusive schools here in India. With enthusiasm such as this they can hardly fail.

As an aside: walking along the lane outside the Brindavan Trust building I met a cow. Nothing unusual in this, (for those of you unfamiliar with India, cows are a regular feature of Indian city streets). As the cow approached me in friendly fashion I suddenly realised that it had red horns! Red – a sign of danger (most of the world), or of good luck (China) or of mourning (South Africa). None of these it would appear. The Indian festival of Sankranthi, a celebration of harvest has just finished and the painting of horns is all part of the celebration. So, the next time I meet a cow with red horns I will know what to discuss with her. That is always assuming she speaks English!


Could do better!


The school principles produced by one of our student groups

The school principles produced by one of our student groups


“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”

Sign hanging in the office of Albert Einstein at Princeton University

I wonder if I am the only person who ever has days like this? As I sat today observing my good colleagues Mary and Jayashree working with students I was in awe of their knowledge and enthusiasm. Furthermore I was stunned by the quality of information and the depth of perception coming from our students. Why, I asked myself, does it seem that everyone in this room is far cleverer than me?

Today’s topic was assessment in inclusive classrooms, an area guaranteed to provoke strong feelings and one which we hoped our course participants would debate with vigour. We were not disappointed. Indeed their thoughtful critical responses indicated the many frustrations and challenges that they experience with regards to assessment in their professional lives.

Semantics are important and this is apparent whenever issues of the assessment of learners are discussed. Assessment for learning, or assessment of learning? Assessment of the pupil or assessment by the pupil? So many complexities to explore and no wonder that this is a subject that gets teachers so animated. Writers such as Dylan Wiliam and my colleague Knut Roar Engh have emphasised the holistic nature of effective assessment and have encouraged teachers to see this as an embedded part of the teaching process rather than an addendum to the main activity. Yet it would appear that many schools still place an emphasis upon assessment as a summative process with little regard for how it may shape teaching and celebrate the accomplishments of pupils.

Inclusion is essentially a democratic process that recognises the rights of individuals and marginalised groups and celebrates diversity. For assessment to support this process it too must adopt democratic principles. Where it becomes an activity solely undertaken by teachers and school managers and remains focused upon narrow academic outcomes it acts as a barrier to the inclusion agenda. For this reason Mary and Jayashree in their sessions today emphasised the need to place the pupils’ interpretation of their own learning at the centre of the assessment process and conveyed the message that we start from the strengths of the learner. Working in inclusive teams was emphasised and respect for families reinforced with consideration given to how assessment information is conveyed with empathy.

Within very little time our students, many of whom work in schools with a “traditional” view of assessment were voicing their opinions and demonstrating their innovative ideas for how assessment might inform the development of inclusive teaching and learning. The means by which assessment might provide us within insights into the impact of the teaching environment and a shift of focus to provide a consideration of the assessment of teaching styles, were just two of the ideas keenly contested today. Arguments were plentiful and the debate fierce, but all in good humour and deftly refereed by tutors!

The ideas emerging from the discussions and workshop activities of students today were highly original and creative. Now I think I understand, the reason everyone in this room seems cleverer than me, it’s simple really – they are!

Ah well, in the words of Samuel Beckett “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better”. – (Samuel Beckett – Worstword Ho 1984)