Spent a fascinating day on Thursday with early years staff from an inner London borough at their conference on Inclusion. I can hardly remember, now, the "old days" when early years conferences were usually held in smelly old halls and you brought your own lunch or got something dreadful from the canteen. The new order is big shiny hotels (though this one, big and shiny, was also rather smelly I think because it had long corridors, no windows, and probably the carpet gets drenched with whatever the guests and room service drop, and that's then laid over with various poisonous cleaning fluids). A couple of other things I noticed. Eat all you can buffet lunch, this guy says to his friend "you can't have the spicy chicken, the beef and the lasagne." But he could. The usual hotel conference freebies were swept into bags and handbags, too - handfuls of biros, a little bowl of mints, whatever was there.
The conference began with Richard Rieser from Disability Equality in Education. I've heard Richard a few times; he's passionate and persuasive. And since I've worked with children with pretty much all levels of disability now in mainstream early years settings, I am persuaded that no child should be excluded from her or his local nursery. A bit of belief, open-ness, adaptability, refusal to get downhearted is mainly what it takes to include any child. Interestingly, I've never known a parent to complain about having children with disabilities included, either - when they see it in action, and done well, parents (in my experience) have been very much in favour.
But I did start to get that conference feeling, that I was in a church being preached at, not a place of analysis and discussion. First of all Richard Rieser hardly drew breath at all, ran over, no questions or discussion, no interest in what the participants were bringing to the day. He went so fast at a few points that as he stressed the need for inclusion, the poor BSL interpreters had to beg for a pause of a few moments to allow the merits of inclusion to be put to the deaf man sitting near me.
There's also quite a big problem with authoritianism going on here. So one moment great pleasure in the backing of the law, or the Department for Education, Ofsted, or whoever for his points (but in general do we want things railroaded through in education like this, by ever more laws, powers, inspections, etc?) The next: parents are "wrong" if they want their autistic children to attend a specialist provision. Other parents need to be challenged for their "disablist" views - and still other parents, with disabled children, need to be told to stop mollycoddling their children by staff.
So, as usual, half the time (or more) is taken up with an obsession with the "culture war" - whilst no time is devoted to hearing from the participants about what they are doing in their nurseries, playgroups etc. Richard Rieser himself showed little to no knowledge about early childhood education and care, and basically suggested a load of ideas for older children which he had watered down.
Later in the day, running two workshops on children's emotional development, I did have a good time with two lively groups with a lots of ideas and controversies coming out - and meriting a separate posting, some time soon.