Last reviewed 30 December 2020
The first place to start when enhancing staff confidence to deliver inclusive early years practice could be to open the discussion by asking ‘What is inclusion?’ says Rebecca Fisk.
Inclusion in its widest sense is not just about Special Educational Needs and Disabilities, but about many different characteristics. This could be age, gender, race, and sexual orientation for example. Many early years providers have an Inclusion Coordinator (INCCO) who oversees the inclusion of all children into the full range of opportunities on offer. Special Educational Needs Coordinators (SENCOs) often take on the role of inclusion lead for all children. It is important to have a clear job description with roles and responsibilities outlined. It is important to allocate time to the SENCO or INCCO to carry out this leadership role. It is, however, everyone’s role to be inclusive, and this often means support and guidance from a named person.
Staff may not feel confident with their knowledge around inclusion. It is helpful to support them to understand the Equality Act 2010 and Human Rights Act as a starting point. Inclusion is about not being excluded or discriminated against in any way.
Develop an audit with staff
This starting point can help you develop an audit checklist with the staff. To build their confidence, why not ask them to work with a colleague to audit one of these areas of provision and report back to the whole staff group? Support them to generate key audit questions, such as:
How inclusive are our processes and systems including induction to the setting? Would all parents understand them, whatever their language? If not, how can we make these more accessible?
Do our daily routines for the children meet their different developmental stages and needs? Are the routines in place for adults or for children?
Are our learning resources accessible for children to be independent and free from gender bias?
Does our environment reflect the cultures, languages and needs of our children? Do they see themselves represented in an aspirational way?
How do the attitudes and behaviours of staff impact on inclusion? Are we aware of our own bias, prejudice and judgements? Consider how you can facilitate good open discussion in a safe professional environment to talk about these issues.
Strong and approachable leaders will support their staff to discuss these issues, which may be uncomfortable at times.
Special Educational Needs and Disabilities
It is everyone’s responsibility to be inclusive. Each key person is responsible for ensuring children make progress, and this is clearly laid out in the SEND Code of Practice and the EYFS Statutory Guidance. Do all staff have a good and clear understanding of this? The SEN and disability toolkit for the early years is a useful resource for staff and SENCOs alike and has been developed by the Council for Disabled Children. It takes the elements of the SEN Code of Practice that specifically relate to early years providers and encourages reflective thinking and practice. Using this toolkit as a leader for SEND and inclusion will support you to develop practitioner knowledge and confidence. One way to do this is to take a section of the toolkit or one of the reflective practice questions to each staff meeting for discussion. This ensures inclusion is always on the agenda and at the heart of your provision.
Feedback from families
Another way to gather information about how inclusive the provision is, could be to ask parents for feedback. How did they find the induction process for their child? How well do they understand your inclusion policy, and have you promoted it enough? By focusing on their experience, you will help them to feel listened to and develop and change your practice accordingly. This parent partnership is built on trust and positive relationships. By being open to feedback from families, you will make it easier for them to come to you when there are concerns or difficulties. Each key person could work with the families of their key children to gather feedback, which is likely to enhance their own confidence too.
It is particularly important, when improving inclusive practice, to gain feedback from families that may have had difficulty accessing provision for their child, perhaps due to their social circumstances or language barriers. What could you change in your approach that would make it easier for them to feel included? This might include, for example, dual language information, staggering handover times, or offering regular 1:1 meetings with families.
Many local authorities offer support and training around inclusion for early years providers, often in the form of cluster meetings to discuss new initiatives, changes to guidance and to share good practice. It is likely that the SENCO or INCCO attends these sessions. Why not ask if there is anything that other practitioners can attend which supports inclusion specifically, or if the local early years team can signpost you to further opportunities. There are several national organisations such as the National Association for Special Educational Needs which are funded by central government (Department for Education) to roll out inclusive support for early years providers, particularly in the light of the impact of COVID-19 on families where children have additional needs. It is important to make staff aware of how they can access these national training programmes and support.
In addition, many charities and private organisations offer different training and support offers. The virtual and flexible training modules that are now available make it easier to access these, especially for childminders, where ‘release time’ from childcare is harder to come by.
Talking about inclusion to keep it high on the agenda is a great way to becoming more inclusive as an early years provider. Embedding an inclusive approach takes time, energy and dedication. Staff will have different levels of knowledge and experience. Regular reflection and professional dialogue will enable staff to gain confidence in their own abilities to enhance inclusion for all. Relationships between staff, with staff and children, and with parents are all enhanced when inclusion is central to practice and policy. Looking both inwardly at your own practice and outwardly towards local and national good practice examples is fundamental when developing your inclusive provision.