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Everyone should have the Opportunity to Thrive: A Call for Inclusive Policies in UK Education!

Nobody wants to hear the words “there is no further support for students with additional support needs and we are a school of high standard promoting students towards top universities.” This is exactly what I was told on GCSE results day in 2015. It is experiences such as this that inspire me to instigate changes and achieve an attitude of inclusion, right through education.

One suggestion for sixth-forms, colleges and universities, is disabled student networks in which students can choose to be involved (or not). This is where individuals with lived experience could discuss how educational environments can best support the needs of all students by becoming better at supporting those who may have additional needs. Some students don’t feel confident advocating for themselves, and I certainly wouldn’t have felt that trying alone to change anything would have helped me.

But once you have multiple individuals talking and coming up with ideas of how their experiences collectively could be enhanced, the schools, colleges and universities are less likely to ignore this and the frustrations we experience if they do can be shared. The students should be consulted before the school come up with ideas. Because the ideas of the students can be built upon and used to develop the broader plan.

Disabled staff members should also be involved, as students often become future teachers or lecturers themselves, and need to see the strategy of inclusion set. But as always, one idea doesn’t suit every individual’s scenario. So there should be a way that each student can embrace their educational journey and feel like they have the same chance to succeed as non-disabled students.

For the staff, as well as laying the foundations for a future of inclusive higher education, they should have every opportunity to look for further opportunities or development in their career. I have been learning a lot about the “Squiggly Career” pathway, which has so many useful resources to help people whatever they wish to learn about. I’m particularly interested in breaking these resources into manageable things that people with a disability or neurodivergent condition can pick up and learn at a pace that works for them.

There should always be a diverse range of staff and students, all with their own skills. They should all be able to find opportunities to thrive within higher education based on skills profiles. There are also online tools that can help with strengths building too. Ultimately, what we want to see are higher education settings where there is no disparity between staff and students, and where the ways of learning can be adapted so that each individual has the best experience.

What this inclusive future would look like seems logical to me. One quick win would be giving the same additional time for a disabled student to complete assessments as you would a disabled teacher or lecturer to mark the assessments. It is also important that the subjects, particularly once you get to degree level study, have no bias within the marking. I have neurodivergent friends who have said their experience in higher education is that it becomes more difficult to navigate when you have people marking things based on their opinion, rather than a distinct guideline for measuring accuracy of answer.

So let’s start by more consulting with students and staff to see what ideas they have collectively about making a system designed for all to be able to thrive. Nobody should ever be left behind!

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