The Key To Inclusive Education In Early Years

Taken from UNICEF’s “Inclusive Education” –   

What Are The Barriers To Learning? 

There are many barriers that children can have that will affect their access to learning. These barriers can affect anyone, but often affect children with: 

  • Special Educational Needs (SEN) 
  • Disabilities 
  • Different abilities from others in the class 
  • EAL or those from different countries/cultures  
  • Different or alternative religious beliefs 
  • Disadvantaged backgrounds 
  • Different learning styles 
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) 
  • Looked after or previously looked after children 

How Can Early Years Settings Ensure They Have Inclusive Practice? 

For early years settings, inclusive practice must begin with valuing and respecting the diversity and differences in our society and actively promoting the ideas of tolerance and acceptance as well as making positive adjustments to include everyone. Inequalities exist, but the goal of inclusive practice is to limit the impact of these. The Equality Act 2010 lists personal characteristics that are protected under British law and no child or family should be discriminated against because of them. They are: 

  • Age 
  • Disability 
  • Gender reassignment 
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin 
  • Religion or belief 
  • Sex 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Marriage or civil partnership status 
  • Pregnancy 

Inclusive practice can mean actively challenging long-held views or beliefs and educating staff, children, and families. It is not just our staff that we may need to educate, but prejudice exists in society, and we can experience this through the views and ideas that our children and families present.  

Start With A Policy 

Write an ‘inclusive practice policy’ and set out your aims so that you have a clear vision and guidelines to refer to. You could consider aims including: 

  • A commitment to inclusive practice at all levels and in all the setting’s activities – this will not just affect the care and education of the children, but also your recruitment, advertising, and social media – for example, are your recruitment practices robust enough, and is your local community reflected in your advertising, displays and social media? 
  • Developing a ‘can-do’ attitude and ethos 
  • The early identification of children who need special consideration with their physical, social, emotional, sensory needs, communication or cognitive development 
  • Making it a priority to offer children relevant and specialist support 
  • A belief that all children can have high levels of achievement, given the right support 
  • Creating a supportive partnership with parents and caregivers to expand the reach of the setting regarding inclusive practice 
  • Challenging all aspects of discrimination in practice or beliefs  

Practical Things You Can Do 

Once you have written a policy, identify tasks to lead you towards your goals such as: 

  • Support staff with training and strong leadership 
  • Offer parent/carer consultations to introduce your ideas and promote good home links 
  • Ensure your curriculum reflects many different cultures, races and religions and encourage appreciation of other cultures – this could be by learning about and celebrating different religious festivals, for example 
  • Invite community leaders into the setting  
  • Train staff to be attentive and report early signs that children may need additional help 
  • Read stories about diversity and disability 
  • Audit all your adverts and social media to ensure they are in line with inclusivity 
  • Plan events and activities that actively promote inclusive practice 
  • Write plans for each child to ensure that their needs are identified and make adjustments to meet these needs 
  • Encourage an attitude of reflection and monitoring so that you can learn from mistakes – sometimes culture changes take time 
  • Audit how your curriculum is delivered and identify improvements – e.g. look at the design of classroom spaces, learning styles such as hands-on or sensory approaches to learning 
  • Work with your SENCo and ensure all staff are aware of any special needs that children have and that these are being fully catered for 
  • Look at your posters and displays – do they reflect the diversity in society?  
  • Celebrate differences through awareness days and events and make diversity the norm as opposed to the exception 
  • Encourage all children to play and learn together 
  • Offer additional and specific support to EAL children  
  • Address all issues of racism, bullying, sexism and other non-inclusive attitudes through strong leadership and modelling good practice 

These ideas and tasks are only the start of the journey.  

Inclusive practice in education is an ongoing topic that will require early years managers to be proactive as well as reflective, and to keep up with best practices going forward. However, the importance of embedding these ideas and practices cannot be underestimated if we are going to move society forward in its views on diversity, inclusion and disabilities.  

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