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Five tips to make Norfolk's schools more inclusive - from the man who wrote the book on it

Daniel Sobel, educational psychologist and chief executive of Inclusion Expert, speaking at the Norfolk Curriculum Conference at the Kings Centre in Norwich. Picture: Bethany Whymark

Daniel Sobel, educational psychologist and chief executive of Inclusion Expert, speaking at the Norfolk Curriculum Conference at the Kings Centre in Norwich. Picture: Bethany Whymark

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Inclusion in schools is something Daniel Sobel knows a lot about.

The internationally renowned educational psychologist worked as a teacher and special educational needs coordinator (SENCO) before founding his company Inclusion Expert.

He and his 30-strong team have worked with 1,500 schools to find out how to make them more inclusive for children with special needs and disabilities or those from disadvantaged backgrounds.

At the Norfolk Curriculum Conference in Norwich he shared his top tips to make schools as inclusive as possible.

1) Understanding barriers. A common problem encountered by Inclusion Expert is that crucial – and often simple – advisory notes on how to help pupils with the most complex needs are missing or not adhered to.

Mr Sobel said: “It is difficult to really engage with students unless you first overcome their most obvious barriers.

“You have to identify your issue, decide how you are going to address it and what you want the impact to be.

“Inclusion only works if it takes less time, saves money and is more enjoyable to be inclusive, and if you can immediately see if it works or not.”

2) Aspirations. Mr Sobel said many schools made the mistake of setting pupils’ aspirations and aspirational activities “outside the curriculum”.

“One of the most successful things I have seen in terms of bringing the curriculum alive is to bring in someone with relevant expertise and get them to share their personal experience.

“You have an entire community at your disposal with relevant life experience. It is a way of making the curriculum as alive as possible.”

3) Hard data versus soft data. When it comes to dealing with children’s educational problems, Mr Sobel said “hard data” (e.g. a child’s poor scores in maths) could eclipse the “soft data” surrounding it (the family problem which causes the child to miss maths lessons and affects their learning).

“There is one thing we are particularly good at in England as educators – we are very good at tracking and managing hard data,” he said.

“That is a major achievement, but I would suggest that sometimes the hard data can eclipse the soft data.”

4) Background. A child’s socioeconomic background – where they grew up, how wealthy or well-educated their family is – has an inescapable bearing on their learning, Mr Sobel said – particularly in regard to their language development.

“SATs and GCSEs are testing one thing above everything else which is a child’s ability to acquire new language and retain and recall that new language,” he said. “A child who is used to learning language will have an advantage.”

According to Mr Sobel pre-loading – working to make children more familiar with new language in new situations – is “the only thing you can do to directly address the language acquisition issues at the jugular”.

He added: “It also gives children the sense that ‘I can’ which is one of the most valuable things about it.”

5) Parents. Involving parents in a child’s journey of improvement and inclusion can be a great help to all parties, Mr Sobel said.

In a suggestion to the assembled school leaders, he said: “Choose your 10 most challenging students and get a teaching assistant to call their parents every week and say how well the child is doing in school. Over time you are investing in that relationship to make it a source of positivity and if the parents start to think that the child will too.”

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