Creating a positive climate for learning

Written by: Leora Cruddas | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

What approach does your school take to inclusion and supporting all children to achieve? Leora Cruddas looks at some key tenets to help you reflect on your current provision

“I am not a disability, I’m me. I have dyslexia and I’ve had polio but I’m not ‘a dyslexic’ or ‘a cripple’, I’m me.”
John Swan, 14 (extract from What It’s Like To Be Me, edited by Helen Exley).

These are powerful and radical words from John. Radical, because they challenge fundamental attitudes to SEN and disability in our society.

Let’s consider a world in which there are no “dyslexics” (as John says), no “EBD” or “SEND” pupils, no “Pupil Premium” students. This is difficult terrain – as teachers and leaders, we must recognise difference. By virtue of legislation, we are required to do so. I’m not arguing against that.

We must (and do) protect individual young people from unfair treatment and we must support their specific needs. But let’s not define them by these labels. Let’s not limit them by our perception of their “needs”. Let’s not put them into a SEND box. Or an EBD box. Or a Pupil Premium box.

Let’s create a climate for learning that celebrates diversity and uses it as a rich learning resource.

I’d like to consider how we might do this through the Equality Act which came into force in October 2010. The Equality Act brings together more than 116 separate pieces of legislation. Combined, the Act provides a legal framework to protect the rights of individuals and advances equality of opportunity for all.

The Act simplifies, strengthens and harmonises previous legislation to provide Britain with a new discrimination law which protects individuals from unfair treatment and promotes a fair and more equal society.

I’d like to suggest that we can use the thinking that underpins this legislation to consider how we might create a positive climate for learning for all young people – one in which we believe achievement can be realised for all young people. One that rejects determinism by social background, disability or by perceived intelligence.


A headteacher whom I admire told me recently of his approach to the Donaldson reforms in Wales. His school is a pioneer school, which means he is developing a bold new approach to the curriculum. Put simply and powerfully, this is expressed as “iLearn”. In Welsh, this is iDdysgu which means “I learn” and “to learn”.

It struck me that this turns on its head much of the language of “special educational needs” and the range of deficits that can sometimes be used when talking about young people with disabilities.

The business of schools is surely to take away the boxes and create the environment for learning – an environment in which all young people can say with confidence, “I learn”.

Behaviour gurus & prophets of learning

Yes, schools with good discipline have good behaviour policies – policies which sanction certain behaviours and promote others. In these schools, staff and students alike are clear on the policies, the processes and what happens to students who behave poorly. This is the bread and butter of good pastoral policies. It keeps young people and staff safe.

The Bill Rogers’ approach is widely known and many leaders will have offered whole-school training in Rogers’ behaviour management techniques:

  • Positive correction: teachers and schools should adopt a non-confrontational approach to discipline, based on respect for the dignity and rights of young people, choices about consequences and encouragement of self-discipline.
  • Prevention: planning for good behaviour; teaching the routines and the rules.
  • Consequences: have a clear structure that young people understand and use to inform the choices they make.
  • Repair and rebuild: work hard to build and repair the damage that is done when things go wrong.

But how about switching the focus from managing behaviour towards behaviour for learning? Some schools are now exploring what Professor Daniel Willingham’s cognitive neuroscience and Professor Carol Dweck’s “growth mindset” might mean as a next step to thinking about inclusive practice.

The power of mindsets and efficacy of effort

Here are some fixed mindset statements and some growth mindset statements from Prof Dweck. Best practice is defined by how much staff in schools are consciously and consistently using the language of the last two statements, particularly for those young people who experience greater difficulty in learning or accessing learning:

  • “Your intelligence/ability is something very basic about you that can’t change very much.”
  • “You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent/able you are.”
  • “No matter how much intelligence/ability you have, you can always change it quite a bit.”
  • “You can always substantially change how intelligent/able you are.”

The first two statements are obviously a fixed mind-set approach. But the second two assume a growth mindset. Is the SEN policy – or better still, the inclusive learning policy – of your school or group of schools’ underpinned by the approach articulated in the last two statements: the growth mindset approach?

Assessment and the Rochford Review

Recently, the Rochford Review was published. Diane Rochford, chair of the review, a serving practitioner and an executive headteacher of a special school, said: “I strongly believe that assessment arrangements should work for all pupils, whatever their needs or circumstances. Every child’s achievements should be celebrated.

She continued: “Pupils all over the country work hard every day to acquire new knowledge and understanding. For pupils who face additional challenges, progress can be even more hard-won. It can take weeks of patience and persistence to grasp a new concept or to learn to apply an existing skill in a new way. Progress in all forms should be recognised and valued.”

The report makes some welcome recommendations – perhaps most importantly that we refocus our attention on promoting equality, and aim to ensure cohesion and clarity in an inclusive assessment system. Let’s embrace the opportunity this review affords in our school-based assessment practices.

The Pupil Premium shibboleth

The Pupil Premium is a funding stream, and, in schools that consistently narrow gaps, an approach to raising the attainment of disadvantaged students of all abilities; it is not a label for individual students.

I am not suggesting that the Pupil Premium as a funding stream is outmoded or no longer important. The most successful schools use the Pupil Premium to target specific evidence-based interventions towards young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in a way that rejects determinism either by social background or by perceived intelligence.

The Education Endowment Foundation’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit is an accessible summary of educational research which provides guidance for teachers and schools on how to use their resources to improve the attainment of disadvantaged pupils.

The Toolkit currently covers more than 30 topics, each summarised in terms of their average impact on attainment, the strength of the evidence supporting them and their cost.

It is a valuable resource in prioritising Pupil Premium spending. More than half of secondary school leaders now say they use the Toolkit.

Does the approach of your school or group of schools to Pupil Premium focus relentlessly on how effective you are in enabling all young people to learn? Is your plan underpinned by evidence-based interventions? Is there evidence of impact?

Last word

A final note: some schools are moving away from the SENCO approach and towards a director of inclusion whose role includes the SENCO responsibilities. This is a much wider brief that pulls together all the strands of work which together seek to create a more equal and inclusive school community – the microcosm of a more equal and inclusive society.

  • Leora Cruddas is the director of policy at the Association of School and College Leaders. ASCL is hosting Creating a Climate for Learning: A conference for pastoral leaders on January 24, 2017, in London. Visit


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