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This morning I happened upon a thread on Twitter that had been running since last night and involved @miss_mcinerney @LearningSpy @nastyoldmrpike@Lisahansel @SimonKnight100 @rachelrossiter @nancygedge at various stages of the conversation. The tweet which captured my attention and sheer horror was this one from @nastyoldmrpike ‘differentiation is another word for teaching all kids badly’. I traced this thread back and it had originated with a post from @Lisahansel entitled ‘Differentiation’s Dirty Little Secret’. The essence of the post was that the author had visited several elementary schools and observed lessons where the whole class listened to the same introduction. After the introduction the lesson was differentiated for 3 or more groups each with different projects to complete.

The lesson described is not expertly differentiated by any stretch of the imagination and it would not be appropriate for children with SEND. I take exception to the line ‘Differentiation is supposed to provide different learning paths to attain the same goal’. This may be the definition of differentiation in America but it isn’t the way we do it here. Furthermore, I accept that the author is not discussing children with SEND, rather those with different abilities. The part I am objecting to is that the discussion arose here in this country.

Now @nastyoldmrpike isn’t nasty at all! I know this because I have been in conversation with him previously on different subjects so I was surprised at his stance on this one. @rachelrossiter asked him what he would do with a child who is in Year 5 who cannot count to 20. In brief, the essence of the discussion from him was that ‘mainstream education probably isn’t for them.’ Mario Lopez (@nastyoldmrpike) stated that he’s taught kids like this, it isn’t good for them and there is nothing he could do’. He was challenged by @nancygedge who advocated for the value of the mainstream experience and @rachelrossiter who challenged his thinking several times.

The tweet that really upset me and motivated me to write this post was this one ‘so this kid that can’t count to 20 in year 5, how far mathematically will he go?’ This tweet completely and utterly misses the point of differentiation and indeed teaching. It isn’t about how far the child will go, its about Quality First Teaching and the child’s entitlement to be the best that he or she can possibly be. The conversation on twitter could have continued for a long time but work was calling for all of us. Also, I was rather disturbed by what I had read.

To return to the child in question, which incidentally is a girl, its not about how far mathematically she will go. Its all about her being the best she can be for herself. If she recognise numbers to twenty she can learn to recognise coins and notes up to the value of £20, £10 and £5. She can locate a bus on a certain route which will enable her to travel independently and she will be able to pay for her own bus fair while taking the trip. She will be able to go to the shops and not need to rely on others for support to buy everyday items. These are just a few examples of the things she can do if she has mastered numbers up to 20. This will afford her a little independence in the wider world as an adult. Who are we as teachers to starve her of that independence?

This is what scares me about inclusion. Through no fault of their own we have some teachers in mainstream schools who aren’t trained to deal with children with special needs and who actually have very little interest in it. I totally understand this, it is not what they trained to do and its not what they want to do. They want their classes to be neat and ordered and to run like clockwork. That is what they are trained for. Fair play! But we are where we are! Like it or not, many children with special needs are in our mainstream classrooms and our teachers must teach them.

Most of our children with SEND in mainstream classes are being taught by dedicated teachers who want the best for them and they work tirelessly to achieve it. For those who aren’t comfortable working with children with special educational needs please remember that differentiation isn’t teaching done badly, its about doing your best for the child in front of you. It’s about helping that child to be as independent as possible to enable them to have a future of their own not directed by well meaning adults.

Differentiation isn’t lazy teaching, it is quite the opposite. Differentiation could mean 10 different objectives for 10 different children within the same lesson, they are not all working towards the same goal.

Lastly, differentiation isn’t having low expectations. Again, its quite the opposite. Differentiation is having high expectations of all children and helping them to be the best that they can be for themselves.

Thank you for reading.