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Hot Topic "School For Everyone" - supporting inclusion and belonging in our schools

School for everyone poster  image

This month's Hot Topic is a great piece of participation work, The Inclusion and Belonging Project carried out in 2018 by Wandsworth's Schools and Community Psychology Service (SCPS).

Wandsworth's SCPS agreed to explore children and young people’s with SEND understanding and thoughts regarding what helps them feel included in their schools, in order to identify the things that most help them to feel they belong and possible factors influencing this.  One hope was that the children’s views would shape the development of an Inclusion Charter for the borough that might influence school leaders’ perceptions and ultimately support more children being educated in local provision. 

The SCPS chose to explore three specific questions in relation to children’s belonging.

  • Firstly, did children within the borough feel a sense of belonging in their schools?
  • Secondly, what helped children feel that they belong?
  • Finally, what else did children and young people think would improve their sense of school belonging within the LA?

In order to answer these, a two-phase, mixed-methods approach was adopted. Young people’s sense of belonging was explored using the Belonging Scale (Frederickson et al., 2007) and the School Connectedness Scale (Resnick et al, 1997), alongside individual or semi-structured group reflection sessions. By using this multi-dimensional approach, it was hoped that a fuller understanding of the sense of belonging felt by children and young people in the LA could be explored.

In the first phase, children were asked about their understanding of inclusion and belonging, and what they felt schools were doing to support them or could do more of to improve in this area. The second phase took the themes identified in the first phase and explored these further, aiming to identify and rank the most important factors of belonging to children within the LA.  Quantitative data from the scales was also analysed.  Fuller details are in the attached document.

A total of 38 children aged three to sixteen participated in Phase 1.

The children were members of five schools;

  • an ASD base in a nursery (n=5),
  • two mainstream primary schools - including one with a Hearing Impairment unit (n=19),
  • a mainstream secondary school (n=4) and
  • a secondary special school (n=10).

All the children and young people were on the SEN register at SEN support or with an EHCP and were selected for participation by the school SENCO. 

46 children aged seven to fifteen participated in Phase 2 representing a further eight schools within the Local Authority. These comprised:

  • five mainstream primary schools – including one with a Language Unit (n=30),
  • one primary special school (n=3),
  • one mainstream secondary school (n=9) and
  • one residential secondary special school (n=4).

Four key themes were identified as important in supporting children’s sense of belonging in school:

  • Relationships,
  • School Environment,
  • Teaching and Learning and
  • Extra Curricular Activities

(See Table 2 , in the attached document, for key themes, subthemes and key quotes). Children and young people also ranked the emerging themes to create a list of Top Ten tips for belonging (see Table 3, in the attached document). 

With the support of the graphic design team a poster was created to display the young people’s key ideas adopting the title “School for Everyone: Our Ten Top Tips to help us feel we belong.

This poster has been distributed to all local schools as well as displayed in key parts of the Town Hall building. Several presentations have taken place to promote the findings of the project, share the Top Ten tips as well as pose reflective questions to school staff and key stakeholders. The presentation audience so far includes

  • Wandsworth Councillors- at the Education and Children's Services Overview and Scrutiny Committee where young people who had participated in the project had the chance to present the top tips themselves.
  • Chairs of Governors from schools across the borough
  • Primary Heads’ Forum
  • Primary and Secondary SENCO forums
  • SEN and Inclusion Forum
  • A cross-borough CYP Participation Event

The Wandsworth SCPS findings were also presented at the DECP (Division of Educational and Child Psychology) conference 2018 and 2019  and have been submitted to a peer reviewed journal in the form of an article which it is hoped will be published.