Gordon Porter, Director, Inclusive Education Canada
A journalist for the Toronto Globe and Mail wrote an article last month that took a serious look at what is commonly labelled ‘inclusive education’ in Canada. The perspectives of parents, academics, union officials and educational leaders were all cited. The reporter, Caroline Alphonso, followed journalistic practice and presented ‘both’ sides and a ‘balanced’ story.
But she missed the most critical factor – the failure of school leaders to develop, implement, monitor and evaluate effective policies. Let me tell you what they are.
First, the title of the article – Educating Grayson: Are inclusive classrooms failing students? – leads the discussion down the wrong path. It suggests that if students like Grayson, the Ontario child who is the human focus of the story, isn’t doing well, it is the ‘inclusive classroom’ that is failing him.
Classrooms, inclusive or not, do not fail students.
The failure to achieve appropriate goals for individual students is the responsibility of people who make up the educational team serving the child. While it is easy to fault those who provide direct service, the classroom teacher or the school principal, they are not at fault.
The responsibility for success or failure lies with the officials of the Education Ministries and the leaders of local school districts who set the policies, allocate resources and are responsible to ensure accountability to both parents and the taxpayers.
For more than thirty years, families and teachers have been struggling to create and sustain inclusive education in Canadian schools. During those years, Ministry of Education officials and local senior leaders in local school districts have failed to implement the changes needed to properly support inclusive classrooms. They have failed to fund the programs and practices needed to support teachers. The result is teachers and schools struggling to meet the challenge presented by a diverse student population. In many schools, principals and teachers get little or no support for inclusion.
This failure is most obvious when you look at how senior ministry and school district officials allocate the resources available to them.
Districts and schools that fail to achieve success with inclusion devote few resources to providing direct support to classroom teachers – the support that is most required to make inclusion work.
Schools that have success with inclusion – and there are many of them – focus their support on the teacher in the classroom.
If the money is being spent on staffing self-contained or segregated programs, the available support for classroom teachers is reduced. In many schools, teachers have to deal with the challenges of inclusion on their own. Too often the ‘special teachers’ assigned to the school work directly with students, neglecting the classroom teacher. In many cases this happens even when the classroom teacher has the student for most of the school day.
This model does not work. It does not support inclusion!
Making classrooms inclusive requires a high degree of collaboration between support teachers and classroom teachers. Teachers may need modelling or coaching with a new strategy. They may need help with problem solving or support through co-teaching.
It is not difficult to see if these things are happening in a school. You look at how staff time is allocated – since 85% or more of funding is used for that purpose.
If money is not being spent to support teachers in inclusive classrooms, the effort will fail. In Canada, far too many school districts have failed to allocate the funding and staff time needed. Education ministries have failed to provide guidelines and oversite. They are failing, not inclusion or the children affected.
This failure is particularly egregious in Canada, since we are committed to be an inclusive society.
This commitment has been made clear through the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (1982), provincial and national human rights acts, and Canada’s commitment to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD; 2008). Canada played a key role in supporting ratification of the CRPD a decade ago and made a major contribution to the development of Article 24 of the Convention that commits State Parties to provide inclusive education to individuals with disabilities.
On December 3, 2018, the federal and provincial/territorial governments of Canada announced the accession to the Optional Protocol of the Convention. This means they agreed Canadians could file complaints if the provisions of the Convention are not being followed. The Canadian Human Rights Commission was designated to be the domestic monitoring body for the CRPD. This is a significant step in assuring the rights of persons with disabilities, including their right to be included in our nation’s classrooms.
Finally, we need to consider the implications of the Supreme Court of Canada decision in Moore vs. British Columbia (2012). Moore is a landmark decision on disability rights and education. The court unanimously held that students with disabilities are entitled to the accommodations they need to access and benefit from public education. The justices concluded that adequate special education is not “a dispensable luxury” and that such measures serve as “the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.”
Canada has long been committed to quality public education for every child. The CRPD commits us to make them inclusive. Research on best practices support this. It is not the students or inclusion that is failing, it is our education system that is failing. It is time for ministry and school district leaders to act.
Let’s make Canadian schools inclusive.
– Gordon L. Porter, C.M., O.N.B.is the director of Inclusive Education Canada and a former chair of the New Brunswick Human Rights Commission.