Time to stop hiding behind 'illusion of inclusion' in classrooms

Halifax-based education consultant Paul Bennett says classroom composition and inclusion should be reviewed in New Brunswick because "there's a serious problem" and the needs of many students will never be met under the current system.

Consultant Paul Bennett believes the needs of many students will never be met under the current system

Education consultant Paul Bennett says classroom composition should be the number 1 priority for school reform in New Brunswick. (CBC)

Halifax-based education consultant Paul Bennett says classroom composition and inclusion should be reviewed in New Brunswick because "there's a serious problem" and the needs of many students will never be met under the current system.

Bennett was responding to comments made by New Brunswick Teachers' Association president Guy Arseneault last week about low test scores among students across the province. Arseneault said inclusion has led to serious classroom composition issues.

"Fundamentally the New Brunswick Teachers' Association is on the right track," Bennett told CBC's Information Morning Moncton on Monday. "They're saying it's time to talk about class composition and not just hide behind the illusion of inclusion."

Bennett agrees that the diversity of needs in classrooms is making it nearly impossible for teachers in the province to teach.

"Class composition is emerging as the number 1 priority in school reform and it's not just in New Brunswick. It just happens to be a bit more acute in New Brunswick because of the system that's in place."

Paul Bennett is an education consultant, based in Nova Scotia 11:26
Arseneault and Bennett both agree with the principle of inclusion, but Bennett says the model that's been adopted in New Brunswick is never going to work.

"As we've become a more diverse society, as we've had more and more kids designated with learning difficulties and more with complex needs, the classrooms have become much more complicated," he said.

"And if on top of that, you have a philosophy that says that everyone's going to be served in one classroom, you are actually compounding the problem because other jurisdictions … they have far more options for kids and parents if they're really struggling in the mainstream classroom and they get far better support."

Bennett points to Calgary as example

Bennett, who has studied special education for much of the past five years, said the current education system in New Brunswick and the way inclusion is being implemented will never meet the needs of many students.

You've got so many kids included in regular classrooms in New Brunswick that, how many teaching assistants would you need to service that class? It's not sustainable.- Paul Bennett, education consultant

"Any time 20 per cent of your Grade 6 students are only able to succeed at math and 26 per cent in science, and 54 per cent are successful in reading — you've got a problem. That's really going to impact the overall student population."

He points to Calgary, where he found there are 13 alternative programs for children with severe learning disabilities, mental health and wellness issues, autism spectrum disorder and various other challenges.

Bennett said while inclusion in the classroom is the starting point for all students, there should be other options available when the regular classroom doesn't work. 

"We need to work on providing the most enabling learning environment for all students, especially those with severe learning disabilities or complex needs," Bennett said.

"You have to ask the question … 'Do you feel welcomed, do you feel that you belong?' And very few parents or kids feel they belong ... where you're fighting for attention."

Bennett said it's time to "start over" with inclusion in New Brunswick because there is no way for the current system to work, regardless of how many resources are directed to classrooms.

"You've got so many kids included in regular classrooms in New Brunswick that, how many teaching assistants would you need to service that class? It's not sustainable."

Last week, New Brunswick Education Minister Brian Kenny said classroom composition could be one of the reasons students are not meeting the literacy goals set by the province.

With files from Information Morning Moncton

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