What Is Inclusive Practice In Early Years? 

Inclusive practice in education is concerned with removing barriers to learning so that ALL children can access learning, and everyone has equal opportunities to learn throughout their time in education. In early years, this is crucial to understand because it can set the tone of c for the child moving onto school and can sometimes ‘make or break’ the child’s experience of learning environments, setting them up to succeed or to fail later on.  

Early identification of children who need additional help is vital to ensure a positive learning experience for them and to help them get the support and resources they need for future learning. However, inclusive practice is not just about children with special needs or disabilities. It is much more than that and early years practitioners should understand the wider aspects of inclusive practice.   

The UK Government has defined inclusive education as:  

  • A fundamental right to education 
  • A principle that values students’ well-being, dignity, autonomy, and contribution to society 
  • A continuing process to eliminate barriers to education and promote reform in the culture, policy, and practice in schools to include all students 

One of the main aims of inclusive education is to assist students with disabilities and other disadvantages to be taught with their peers in a mainstream classroom for most of the school day. There is the assumption that all children have a right to be in the same educational space and not subject to segregation from their peers. However, for this to happen, the United Nations has identified that it means most educational establishments must rethink their policies, practices and the delivery of their education to allow this. And this starts in the early years because attitudes and experiences here can affect the person’s whole life. Inclusive education requires changes to:  

Parenta - Early Years The Key To Inclusive Success blog image

Taken from UNICEF’s “Inclusive Education” - https://www.unicef.org/eca/sites/unicef.org.eca/files/IE_summary_accessible_220917_0.pdf   

What Are The Barriers To Learning? 

There are many barriers that children can have that will affect their access to learning. These barriers can affect anyone, but often affect children with: 

  • Special Educational Needs (SEN) 
  • Disabilities 
  • Different abilities from others in the class 
  • EAL or those from different countries/cultures  
  • Different or alternative religious beliefs 
  • Disadvantaged backgrounds 
  • Different learning styles 
  • Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) 
  • Looked after or previously looked after children 

How Can Early Years Settings Ensure They Have Inclusive Practice? 

For early years settings, inclusive practice must begin with valuing and respecting the diversity and differences in our society and actively promoting the ideas of tolerance and acceptance as well as making positive adjustments to include everyone. Inequalities exist, but the goal of inclusive practice is to limit the impact of these. The Equality Act 2010 lists personal characteristics that are protected under British law and no child or family should be discriminated against because of them. They are: 

  • Age 
  • Disability 
  • Gender reassignment 
  • Race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin 
  • Religion or belief 
  • Sex 
  • Sexual orientation 
  • Marriage or civil partnership status 
  • Pregnancy 

Inclusive practice can mean actively challenging long-held views or beliefs and educating staff, children, and families. It is not just our staff that we may need to educate, but prejudice exists in society, and we can experience this through the views and ideas that our children and families present.  

Start With A Policy 

Write an ‘inclusive practice policy’ and set out your aims so that you have a clear vision and guidelines to refer to. You could consider aims including: 

  • A commitment to inclusive practice at all levels and in all the setting’s activities – this will not just affect the care and education of the children, but also your recruitment, advertising, and social media – for example, are your recruitment practices robust enough, and is your local community reflected in your advertising, displays and social media? 
  • Developing a ‘can-do’ attitude and ethos 
  • The early identification of children who need special consideration with their physical, social, emotional, sensory needs, communication or cognitive development 
  • Making it a priority to offer children relevant and specialist support 
  • A belief that all children can have high levels of achievement, given the right support 
  • Creating a supportive partnership with parents and caregivers to expand the reach of the setting regarding inclusive practice 
  • Challenging all aspects of discrimination in practice or beliefs  

Practical Things You Can Do 

Once you have written a policy, identify tasks to lead you towards your goals such as: 

  • Support staff with training and strong leadership 
  • Offer parent/carer consultations to introduce your ideas and promote good home links 
  • Ensure your curriculum reflects many different cultures, races and religions and encourage appreciation of other cultures – this could be by learning about and celebrating different religious festivals, for example 
  • Invite community leaders into the setting  
  • Train staff to be attentive and report early signs that children may need additional help 
  • Read stories about diversity and disability 
  • Audit all your adverts and social media to ensure they are in line with inclusivity 
  • Plan events and activities that actively promote inclusive practice 
  • Write plans for each child to ensure that their needs are identified and make adjustments to meet these needs 
  • Encourage an attitude of reflection and monitoring so that you can learn from mistakes – sometimes culture changes take time 
  • Audit how your curriculum is delivered and identify improvements – e.g. look at the design of classroom spaces, learning styles such as hands-on or sensory approaches to learning 
  • Work with your SENCo and ensure all staff are aware of any special needs that children have and that these are being fully catered for 
  • Look at your posters and displays – do they reflect the diversity in society?  
  • Celebrate differences through awareness days and events and make diversity the norm as opposed to the exception 
  • Encourage all children to play and learn together 
  • Offer additional and specific support to EAL children  
  • Address all issues of racism, bullying, sexism and other non-inclusive attitudes through strong leadership and modelling good practice 

These ideas and tasks are only the start of the journey.  

Inclusive practice in education is an ongoing topic that will require early years managers to be proactive as well as reflective, and to keep up with best practices going forward. However, the importance of embedding these ideas and practices cannot be underestimated if we are going to move society forward in its views on diversity, inclusion and disabilities.  

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