I appreciate the challenging conference title asking us to look beyond schools in our understanding of inclusion to the lives that surrounds and follow them. It comes at a provoking time for us in the UK where we seem to be discarding the gradual cultural shift to a more inclusive outward looking society brought about in large part by our connections with the European Union to become instead a narrower more xenophobic group of islands searching for fragile shelter beneath the coat tails of Donald Trumps’ United States.
I have thought about the three themes of the conference asking us to consider inclusive environments in which people can have life-long participation and contribute to building inclusive societies. I have wondered if we might start with principles for a more inclusive international and national order in which we have to educate ourselves as young and not so young citizens to become active participants. Perhaps we might begin with envisaging varieties of participative, outward looking democracies and think how we can develop ways of life to support them in our cities, villages, schools, workplaces, other community settings and in our international networks? This involves a first strategic question to ask within and beyond schools and education: ‘how should we live together on this planet, our shared and only home?’ It is a question about values.
I have been pleased in the last year to read the work of Celestin Freinet and his idea of ‘learning walks’ in which school children tour their surroundings to understand the lives and work beyond their gates. This is integrated into the learning activities of the school and becomes the basis for communications about the school within local, national and international networks. So we do not need to contrast schools and their communities but see schools as community settings with community responsibilities.
Freinet’s conception contrasts strongly with a narrower idea of learning walks in English schools which take place only within the school buildings and are commonly an inspection of how well children are being taught. The idea of quality of teaching and learning is itself reduced to an obsession with attainment levels. So children at eleven years old may have the grade they are expected to achieve in examinations at aged sixteen written on the front of their exercise book, for all to see. They are taught not to value learning for itself or to develop the interests that will sustain their lives. Not surprisingly schools are stressful places for many teachers and young people.
In these circumstances alternatives ways of thinking about education can appear increasingly attractive to both adults and children and we have had some success in working with the Index for Inclusion across counties in England. Colleagues have developed ‘values walks’ which address the values that underlie the actions and activities of the school. These support the development of values literacy – learning how to connect values with actions and actions with values. Values are about our lives and the schools and societies we want to build. As one young child commented during a values discussion:
We are all on a journey to find out what we want to be as adults.
And another child responded:
I know the answer: [you are on a journey] to be who you really are.