Transcript of Tony Booth’s presentation

My name’s Tony Booth. I’ve been  involved in education for a long time. And I’m really grateful for you asking me to be with you at your AGM,thanks for remembering me. I’ve been out of full-time employment for the  last 11 years but I’m probably busier than I ever was. And it’s great to be united with some activist colleagues like Michelin and Joe and Simone. And this occasion brings back memories for example: Did you know that Mary Warnock had been Margaret Thatcher’s bridesmaid? Which might explain her being chosen to head the committee that has her  name. But I’ll move on to talking about the index. 

The index for inclusion grew out of a critique of special needs education. A commitment to the right of all children to attend their neighborhood school and a vision of what community schools for all might look like. It’s a practical guide to help schools to become places where  everyone belongs in the communities they serve and is supported to learn, develop their interests and grow as people. 

A few years ago I was discussing the  meaning of index values in a primary school. And the children demonstrated the depths of their thinking about the purposes of education. At one point a boy said: “We’re all on an adventure to find out what we might want to be as adults.” I think he had occupations in mind. But a young girl wanted to take it further: “I know the answer”, she  said, “it’s to be who you really are!” That’s a grand purpose for education I think. Can you feel included as someone other than your true self?

The first edition of the index was produced in 2000. 21 years later it’s in its fourth edition and it has been translated into more than 50 languages, and in the last months into Czech and Romanian for example. The heart of the book involves the  use of challenging questions to open up dialogue for staff in schools, children and young people, and their families, which then lead on to decisions to take practical steps for development. Over the 21  years the book itself has been radically revised. Its subtitle has shifted from “Developing learning and participation in schools” to “A guide to school development led by inclusive values”. 

The definition of inclusion in the index has grown in complexity to be about individuals and also systems and settings but most importantly  about putting inclusive values into action. According to inclusive values is the answer to the first of two fundamental questions which shape the index: How should we live together? This we, how should WE live together, has been progressively expanded.  We, people, adults and children, animals, trees, plants, rocks and air with which we share this planet.

Some of the 16 value headings for shaping  action in the index have been given the status of imperatives. These include non-violence and sustainability. COP26 failed to make honest people out of a group of lying politicians from rich countries. They have failed to set aside enough funds for a just transition to zero carbon in countries of the south or save the lives and livelihoods of indigenous peoples at the sharp end of climate change as the  world heads for three degrees of warming. If this is allowed to happen it will kill the future and any hopes of inclusion in it so the sustainability imperative has to be at the heart of education as we all learn to act against climate and biodiversity breakdown.

I’ve become better at finding questions that push thinking boundaries. So the fourth edition containing 70 indicators or aspirations for development has around 2000 challenging questions distributed between its three dimensions of cultures, policies and practices. And this structure  of dimensions, indicators and questions has lasted well and has continued to have meaning for practitioners.

For the third edition in 2011 I filled a large gap in the index. I had always proudly said that the index provided practical suggestions for developing every aspect of a school but I had admitted to examine the nature of the curriculum which has a principal role in limiting  participation in school life. I started from  first principles asking how we should divide up knowledge in the 21st century based on human needs and rights, inclusive values and in particular the imperatives of non-violence and sustainability without which society will disintegrate.

My curriculum subjects are food, water clothing and decoration of the body, housing and building, mobility and transport, health and relationships, the Earth, the Solar System and the universe, life on Earth, sources of energy, communication and communication technology, literature, arts and music and ethics, power and government. Each  subject links the past, present and future and relates to the world of work and finance. It  is a curriculum that can involve everyone within schools and their surrounding communities. And it’s an answer to my second fundamental question: What do we need to know to live together well?

One Dutch parent of a disabled child listened as I was explaining my curriculum ideas and commented: “When I was at school I thought I was stupid. My  teacher was always telling me to stop looking out of the window. Everything you need to know, he would say, is in here on the blackboard. Now, listening to your curriculum I can see I wasn’t stupid, I was right. Everything I needed to  know was out there, with the blackbird”

Many hundreds of schools have worked with the  index in this and other countries, in recent years it’s been used to support development in  schools across Norfolk and Surrey and Sussex. It has recently been used to help schools reduce  discriminatory practices, particularly towards Roma in Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania in a scheme promoted from the council of Europe. In Belgium index supporters have  travelled from school to school using the indicators and questions to  initiate school development processes. The German edition has sold thousands of  copies and given rise to dedicated courses, creating what they call “process companions” to work with schools on their development. And it’s also spread beyond  preschool, school and higher education to social clubs, government organizations and  churches.

I was in Leeds in a LEAD school on Monday where the staff have insisted on retaining a  focus on the well-being of staff, children and young people despite government pressures. They  have vertical coaching groups meeting every week they’ve resisted limiting the choice of art subjects at GCSE following the changes to how success at GCSE is counted through progress eight. Dance, Drama, Art in its many forms, Music are often a lifeline  for engagement in education for young people. The school wants to look at the way the index can  enhance their already sophisticated development process, which they also link to Peace education. I could give many more examples of engagement with the index but my time is almost up.

I want to  end with an inclusion poem that I wrote several years ago on the plane back from workshops  on the index for inclusion in Istanbul for colleagues from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Mongolia and  Ukraine. I called it

In praise of two dimensions

We love to separate 
to look down from up
and left from right 
to set ourselves to dominate
a world apart

But flatten out the picture
make texture of the shift
between our atoms, us, animals, trees, rocks and air
embrace a terrible collapse
a glorious loss of isolation.

Thank you!


Video by ALLFIE UK (2021):

ALLFIE’s Inclusive Education conference on 24 November 2021 celebrated 40 years of the SEND framework, since the Education Act 1981.